By Jason Pattyson
FAYETTEVILLE — The Fayetteville Regional kicked off with team practice and media availability with all four teams at Bogle Park Thursday.
The makeup of this regional is almost scary in how it is lined up. You have another Ivy League winner, this time is Harvard, not Princeton. Notre Dame eked in the door like Wichita St. did last year and Oregon returned for a second year in a row. All four teams looked sharp in practice and one team even went on to say that they would like to make some noise and shake things up this weekend.
The 11 seed Arkansas Razorbacks enter the 2023 postseason hosting their third consecutive regional and head coach Courtney Deifel has led the program to its fourth national seed. Before she arrived on the hill, Arkansas had not entered the NCAA Tournament as a national seed in program history.
“We’re excited to play another weekend in Bogle with earning a national seed,” said coach Deifel. “We are looking forward to a really exciting weekend. We have three very tough teams that we’re welcoming in this weekend, and we’re excited about the postseason.”
Both the players and the staff alike felt their body of work earned them a top seed in this year’s tournament. Coach Deifel reloaded this year and this young team is ready to compete at home.
“I think it’s huge getting to play at home,” said redshirt senior Chenise Delce.”You have your home base, the people know you, they’re cheering for you by name. It definitely gives you more of a push than when you play at other places. So Yeah, I would argue that we probably have the best fanbase in the nation, but hey, I’m biased.”
The team looks to take what they learned from the conference tournament and use that to their advantage. Having the conference tournament here is a good experience for our young ones going into this weekend with the crowd, with the magnitude, with all of it. So I do just think that we continue to just put more tools in our toolkit and then hopefully we utilize all of them, Deilef said.
Harvard took the podium and Hall of Fame Jenny Allard, who was inducted to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association in 2022, said they’ve really been peeking at the right time. They are ready to go and ready to play in the opening game of this Fayetteville Regional.
Senior Megan Welsh and junior Anna Reed spoke this afternoon to the media pool and gave us some insight on what it’s like to play for Coach Allard. Welsh said that her favorite quote coach Allard reminds the team of is that “it’s not my job to make your life easier, it’s my job to make your life better.”
Coach Allard really felt that the team needed to focus on two primary keys entering the game with Arkansas on Friday night.
One, they were going to see faster pitching immediately. They had hitting practice just to really start on machines, cranking up the speed, getting their hands quicker. There are several kids who have really good bat speed and they actually struggle in Ivy League play when we’re facing some slower pitching.
Second, respecting the level that Arkansas plays at day in and day out in the SEC, I told them You’re gonna have 10% here. 90% is gonna be rooting for them. So right now it’s empty, it’s quiet, you’ve gotta be ready for a lot of energy, a lot of you are not gonna be able to hear each other, you gotta really focus on each other on the field, Allard said.
The Ivy League as a conference has a strict policy that graduate students cannot compete in any sport, minus a temporary exemption, even if the student has eligibility remaining. I’ve got six seniors who took a leave of absence because we didn’t play in 21. Harvard de-densified the campus, so they took the year off, Allard said.
“Harvard didn’t have enough kids on campus and the Ivy League made the decision we wouldn’t play an Ivy season,” Allard said. “So that gave them another year back to play. So they took the year off, they worked, they got work experience, they did amazing things, and then now they’re back and this is their fifth year for those six.”
For the Oregon Ducks squad and head coach Melyssa Lombardi it’s a little deja vu after Arkasnas ended their season in this regional last year.
Does it kind of feel like deja vu second straight year in Fayetteville?
“Yeah, we were just talking about this,” senior Terra McGowan said. “It’s kind of fun, though, to be on the bus ride here and recognizing the restaurant we ate at last year. It’s a very comfortable environment, and I’m just happy to be here.”
Bentonville West alumni Elise Sokolsky returns to Fayetteville as a Duck. She played her freshman season with UCONN and dominated, earning unanimous all-Big East first team selection after leading the conference with 20 wins and 180 strikeouts.
Coach Lombardi spoke on the conversation she had with Sokolsky returning. Yeah, we have. I mean, she’s I think about 20 minutes away from home, so it’s been great to get her back home, to be close to her family, so I’m excited for her.
Notre Dame enters the Fayetteville Regional with an NCAA leading 24th appearance and 22nd for head coach Deanna Gumpf. They were on the bubble heading into Selection Sunday and were relieved to hear the Fighting Irish had chosen to play in the postseason.
When asked about the program’s historic run Coach Gumpf was modest. I just don’t take it for granted. And I think you get reminded of that sometimes when things aren’t as easy, she said.
“We are super excited to be here. We are here hopefully to do some damage and make this place interesting,” Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf. “So that is our goal, that is our plan, and I think we’re in a really good place to just attack the game.”
When looking back at their conference schedule the Golden Domers feel like this is a task that looks a little familiar.
I think the more I watched Oregon, the more I realized how good they really are. Everytime I watch them play, they just produce runners on base. They make things happen. They’re fast and they’re powerful. They kind of remind me of Virginia Tech, I’m going to tell you, like that’s who I would put them up against offensively.
Regional coverage begins Friday with Oregon and Notre Dame squaring off first at 4 p.m. on ESPN 2. Arkansas and Harvard follow with first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and can be streamed on ESPN Plus.