The Texas 2011 softball season starts tonight against Louisville in the Texas Classic at Red and Charline McCombs Field — the same place where the 2010 season ended painfully in the regional round of the NCAA tournament.
Last season ended on a sour note. First, the top-seeded Longhorns lost in the second game of the Big 12 Championship, and then they were sent home early from the NCAA tournament. It was even more disappointing because the team won the Big 12 regular season title and entered the national tournament with title aspirations.
“We built expectations through the year,” said Texas head coach Connie Clark. “Last year we were the underdog and built expectations as we went through. [It] felt like we fell short when we got to the NCAAs.”
The team will now use the lessons learned from the loss to improve on last year’s unwanted results.
“It didn’t end how we wanted it to, and we went back into the locker room after that and were like, ‘Is this really happening?’ Everyone has a sour feeling about that, and now it’s fuel to our fire,” said junior Nadia Taylor.
The Longhorns hope that fire burns all the way to this season’s Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
“As much as you try to teach what it takes to win, it doesn’t replace that feeling of actually being there. They can now look back on the experience and say, ‘Oh yeah, now we know what the coaches were talking about,’” Clark said.
The team uses this year’s national tournament as motivation when practicing or working out, and they even have a motto: 6-8-11, which is the date of the NCAA championship game.
“Six-eight-eleven is our end result, the last day of the World Series,” Taylor said. “We’re going to be there. There is no doubt in our mind that we will be there on 6-8-11. It’s on our mind every day; we break every huddle with 6-8-11.”
Of course, the team is careful not to look too far ahead, knowing they first need to focus on their non-conference schedule and then Big 12 play.
That quest to repeat as conference champs hinges on the Longhorns’ pitching staff, which is headlined by reigning Big 12 pitcher of the year Blaire Luna. Luna is looking to build on a stellar freshman campaign in which she maintained a .127 opponent batting average and threw 10 full-game shutouts.
“I think she’s growing so quickly as a sophomore. Freshman year was a great start for her, but she’s only getting better from there. She’s keying up on little things, so you can expect great things from her this year as well,” said junior Courtney Craig.
This is a potent team that is hitting the field with an impressive blend of speed and power, alongside some excellent pitching. Most importantly, Texas enters the season ranked No. 15 in the country, with a great starting point to repeat as Big 12 champions and eventually to play for the ultimate goal: 6-8-11.