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Softball Hogs Set Sights Toward Championship

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Softball

Razorback freshman outfielder Hannah McEwen gets a hit in a 1-0 victory over Northern Colorado on March 4.

In years past, the Razorback softball team wasn’t considered a premier program at the UofA. Since 1998, the team has had only eight winning seasons, and only one had a winning record in Southeastern Conference play. Entering her third year as coach, Courtney Deifel is determined to make this team No. 9.

“We’re really explosive,” Deifel said. “The offensive power we’re generating is exciting and fun to watch.”

The team is 16-2, including wins over Fordham and Utah, teams that made it to the NCAA tournament last year.

The softball team has seen four total coaches in program history. Before Deifel was hired in 2015, the coach was Mike Larabee. During his six-year tenure from 2010 to 2015, the team reached the NCAA Regional Finals twice.

Unfortunately, Larabee’s record as coach didn’t reflect those finishes. For those six years, Larabee’s softball teams went 149-181 overall and an abysmal 38-114 in conference play.

Grace Moll, who was a pitcher for the Razorbacks from 2014 to 2017, was encouraged by Larabee, she said.

“He was a great guy,” Moll said. “[He was] very enthusiastic, he cared about his players and he loved the sport.”

Even during the rough years, the team continued to fight and stick together, Moll said.

“We had each other,” Moll said. “We kept each other positive and learned to play for each other. Our support staff also helped us stay focus.”

Entering Moll’s junior year, Larabee resigned after finishing his last season with a 16-37 record. After a extensive search, UA officials hired Deifel.

“It was a breath of fresh air for our program,” Moll said. “She brought in a fresh new perspective, and a lot of the girls, myself included, needed that in order to love the game again.”

One of the things that Deifel brought to the program was energy and uniqueness.

“Under Deifel, they kept us focused on the process and helped us realize how much we each individually had to offer as players and people,” Moll said. “They genuinely cared for us and helped us learn to celebrate the small victories and keep us hungry and loving the game.”

Deifel’s first year as the head coach wasn’t a shining moment, however, as the Hogs went 17-39 with a 1-23 SEC record. Entering her second year, the team vastly improved, seeing its first winning season since the 2013 campaign under Larabee.

A.J. Belans, the senior shortstop for the Razorbacks, is entering her last year. She is determined to have a run at a championship, she said.

“Not only do our coaches expect the absolute best out of us,” Belans said. “We hold ourselves to a very high standard from top to bottom.”

This team should be intimidating to all other teams and especially the SEC, Belans said.

“Our team has a goal this year, and nothing will get in our way,” Belans said. “Newcomers and all the way up to seniors, we have a desire to come out and make this program be respected and even feared. We want to prove to everyone that this isn’t a fluke, and we’re the real deal and coming for the title.”

Deifel has drawn up principles that her team will use to be determined and remain together through the season, Belans said.

“In the beginning of the season, we sat down and came up with our six core values,” Belans said. “These are what we use to stay focused on the end goal.”

The core values are being confident, prepared, united, having their sight set, going forward and being intentional.

The team has what it needs to win and have a shot at the national championship, Deifel said.

“It’s not always about talent,” Deifel said. “The thing we do the best is play as a team and have each other’s back. On any given day, anybody can beat anybody.”

 

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