espnW: Janie Takeda
After winning super regionals and knowing we get to take off for Oklahoma City, everyone is on their toes. Everyone can feel it: This year is different for Oregon softball.
My freshman year we beat Texas to go to the Women’s College World Series. The entire year we had repeated to ourselves, “Only eight teams make it,” so when we got to the WCWS, it was like we had accomplished our goal.
Last year we knew we wanted to be at the WCWS again and we wanted to compete for a national title. But we overlooked what was right in front of us and never got the chance.
This year we took it one pitch at a time and focused on the task at hand. The entire year our goal has been “Mission 8.1,” which is to be one of the eight teams at the WCWS and then the last team standing. Only one team gets to end this tournament with a win.
Every week we have a meeting with our sports psychologist, Dr. David Mikula. We talk about issues or things that are happening with our team that we need to address. For example, we talked about being ranked No. 1 in the country when the polls came out. It was the first time in school history that we were the No. 1 team, and we wanted to talk about how that affected us mentally. He has helped us with countless situations, and when the postseason started he asked the returning players to talk about the difference between this year and last.
Older girls on the team tried to explain it, but every person ended with, “I don’t know, I just can’t explain it, but it’s different this year.” This year is special. A lot of teams say that, but we have the team chemistry and talent to pull this thing out. The only team that can beat us is ourselves.
One of the most challenging parts of life in general right now is school. All of us are so excited about what we’re doing on the field that it’s been extremely difficult to focus on school. But that is why we’re here and playing for a university! Most schools are already out for the summer, but because we are on quarter system, finals are coming up. Luckily our academic adviser is an immense help and is going to join us on the road this week and make sure we get all of our school work taken care of.
Last weekend against Minnesota our fans were awesome once again. Home-field advantage is an understatement for us at Howe Field. This year Eugene has had our backs through every up and down.
I will never forget Sunday afternoon. In the bottom of the seventh inning, just one out away from clinching our trip to the WCWS, the crowd started chanting, “O-K-C! O-K-C!” I remember looking down at the grass and I couldn’t help but smile, and I just listened and took in that moment.
It’s surprising we are the only Pac-12 school making the trip to OKC this year. However, upsets happen. That doesn’t mean the Pac-12 was overrated. It’s just the way the cards fell this year. I still believe the Pac-12 is one of the most challenging softball conferences in the country, and it always will be. There are some amazing players and amazing teams in this league. We hope to represent the Pac-12 in the way we carry ourselves and the amount of pride we play with.
Every week we talk about how the road to Oklahoma City starts here in Eugene. Well, we made it! Now it’s time to finish what we started. I have no doubt the girls to the left and to the right of me have the potential to help our team to the final three-game series in OKC.
As a junior with the Ducks, I’ve been lucky enough to go to the postseason each year of my career at Oregon. Each year we’ve had a watch party on Selection Sunday. Each year we’ve found out which seed we were, and each year we’d look over the brackets. But this year was different.
Some people may tell you it doesn’t matter which seed you are because it doesn’t mean you’ll be the last team standing at the Women’s College World Series. That is true. However, being selected as the No. 1 seed in all of college softball is an amazing feeling. When we saw our names pop up on the ESPNU Twitter feed, it was an explosion of screaming and hugs all over the place. This team is so special and we can feel that.
Our motto this year has been to enjoy success that day but get back to business the next. So where do you think we were less than 12 hours after the selection show? We were back in the weight room with our strength and conditioning coach at 6:30 a.m. Mark [Dillon] pushes us to be the strongest, fastest and most hard-working team out there, and although we wish we could catch a few more minutes of sleep sometimes, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Hosting regionals and super regionals is a huge advantage because you get to sleep in your own bed, you don’t have to travel into the wee hours of the night and you’re at your own field! The last one is probably the most important for us this year. Our fans have been unreal. They start cheers on their own and they get loud when something good happens. When I made an error a few weeks ago against Arizona State, there were countless people encouraging me from the stands. “Keep your head up, Janie!” “You got this, 19!” That’s an amazing feeling.
After practicing all week, our excitement was about to burst out of us by Friday. We couldn’t wait to step onto the field and play Utah Valley. The thing about the postseason is it does not matter who the opponent is. You can’t take any team lightly. Because guess what? If you lose it doesn’t affect your ranking like the regular season, it affects whether or not your season continues. Upsets happen every year and we were not going to go easy on any team. You have to show up every day in postseason.
Utah Valley was our main focus at practice. Every week coach [Jimmy] Kolaitis writes the name of our next opponent on a white board that says, “The road to OKC starts with (blank).” This past week it said UVU. We don’t look ahead and we don’t think about who we’re going to play the next day. It’s all about the game that day and preparing for it. That mindset has really worked for us this year.
After getting through the first couple of games, we needed to shut the door against Wisconsin on Sunday. We struggled a little against them on Saturday but knew we needed to put them away on Sunday. Our game was delayed about 45 minutes because of rain and we were all goofing off in the dugout. We even zipped up one of our tiny little freshmen into eight parkas! She could barely walk but the crowd loved it. Howe Field is a family atmosphere and playing in front of those people is a huge honor. They come to watch and cheer, rain or shine. As soon as the first pitch finally happened, we turned it on and came out swinging against the Badgers.
Now that we’re through regionals and moving on to the next step, it gets a little more intense. My freshman year we upset Texas in the super regionals and moved on to the WCWS. I was just completely taken aback by how exciting the whole thing was. Beating Texas at its house is not easy to do and we were the underdogs.
Last year we weren’t the underdogs anymore. We were the No. 3 seed and people expected us to beat Nebraska. But Nebraska showed up that weekend and we didn’t. We were the team upset at our own house.
The lesson we learned from that experience is invaluable. It is everything we can do to tell the freshmen on our team how disappointing that weekend was. But we can’t dwell on it. This year is brand new. We have a completely different dynamic, and we all have so much love and support for each other.
Minnesota is a great team, but it wouldn’t matter who was in the visitors’ dugout. We just have to play Oregon softball and do what we do. Oh, and keep it real, as coach [Mike] White says.