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.