Softball Seniors Ready for Spotlight
Randy York’s N-Sider
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Psych-up videos are big in college athletics, especially at tradition-rich schools like Nebraska, which has a softball team that’s been waiting 12 months to exhale so the Huskers can prove that they belong back among the nation’s elite programs.
That journey begins Friday afternoon against Jacksonville (Ala.) State in the Knoxville, Tenn., NCAA Regional, where Nebraska’s star pitcher and clean-up hitter can’t wait to deliver the kind of signature plays that can become their own legacy for a program that’s on the move again.
“I’ve seen those plays from past teams so many times, I lost count,” said Molly Hill, a senior pitcher and tri-captain who leads the Big 12 Conference with 24 wins this season and ranks fourth in ERA and strikeouts.
“I love all of those videos showing Nebraska alums making all of those amazing plays from so many different teams from the past – just like they showed on the NCAA Tournament Selection Show Sunday night,” Hill said. “But you know what? I haven’t seen any plays on the old psych-up videos that are any more amazing than the plays this team has been making all season.”
Hill, therefore, has the perfect theme for a class of seven seniors – win this weekend’s regional and move on to a Super Regional that leads to the Women’s College World Series. Opportunities don’t get any bigger for Husker seniors to become stars in their own video highlight reel for future teams to watch and enjoy.
“I like that idea,” said Crystal Carwile, Nebraska’s senior first baseman and clean-up hitter who’s bidding to become the first player in Husker history to lead the team in home runs and RBIs in all four seasons.
Players from the Past Inspired This Year’s Team
There were times last year and even times this year when “It hurt to watch those psych-up videos because we weren’t in any of them,” Carwile said. “But they do inspire you, and they do motivate you. When you see all those former players and all that emotion in people like Amanda Buchholz, who’s one of our coaches now, it gets you going. When you see the way they were playing and fighting and having fun and winning, it makes you want to do the same thing.”
A former Husker guard in basketball, Buchholz started 235 straight softball games at Nebraska and helped the Huskers win 192 games in four seasons (2000-03) – the most wins in a four-year stretch in program history.
Hill and Carwile envisioned similar success when they signed to become Huskers, but they hit a stone wall last year, becoming the first Nebraska softball team in 14 years not to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Knee surgery prevented Hill from duplicating the form she showed as a freshman and sophomore, and the Huskers never clicked on all cylinders until they reached the Big 12 Championship, where they lost in the finals to eventual NCAA national runner-up Texas A&M.
“We didn’t have a senior on the team last year, and those seven juniors took it very personally that Nebraska didn’t make it to the NCAA,” NU Head Coach Rhonda Revelle said. “They were so determined to restore this program to where we’ve been traditionally that they just locked in to make sure we made it back into the NCAA Tournament this year. Once they saw our name up there on the selection board, you could almost hear their collective exhale. Now, they’re looser than they’ve been all season.”
“I feel like we’re as good as we’ve been all season,” Hill said. “We’re all ready to play.”
“For us veterans, it’s time to just go out and have fun and enjoy it,” said Megan Mullin, a senior tri-captain centerfielder who’s No. 1 in your program and the Huskers’ leadoff hitter for a third consecutive season. She’s led Nebraska in hitting the past two seasons with .347 and .318 averages.
Weekend Games on Husker Sports Network (Internet Only) and NCAA.com
“I’ve watched the videos that included players from the early ‘90s,” Mullin said. “It does motivate you to know that you have all those players and coaches and fans behind you. You know they’ll be watching you and encouraging you whether they’re in Knoxville this weekend in person or online. You can feel it and sense it because you’ve experienced it. We have a lot of people out there rooting for us.”
Fans can listen live on Huskers.com where Nate Rohr will handle the play-by-play for the Huskers Sports Network. Live audio and video is also available on NCAA.com.
“We’re confident,” Mullin said. “We’ve worked really hard in the off-season, in-season, even throughout our entire lives for this kind of chance. We need to trust all the preparation we’ve ever done and play with every skill set we have in us. We’re all focusing in on the same thing – winning this regional and extending our season.”
Videos don’t make the players, but these players are ready to make compelling videos. “Psych-up videos get us all psyched up,” Carwile said. “They get you going, excited and ready to play. When you wear this emblem and Nebraska is written across your chest, you understand that this university is all about pride and tradition, and we’re looking forward to making the kind of plays that teams down the road can say: ‘Watch them. Look how well they play and how much fun they’re having. See how hard they’re fighting and how much they’re enjoying the game.”
That’s why it’s “so much fun to watch all those old folks on video. It really is,” Carwile said before pausing. “I guess our seven seniors are going to be former players here soon, aren’t we? My point is all those players are on all those videos because they were so successful, and we want to feel just like they did.”
The Bitter: An Important Prelude to the Sweet
Preparation for that kind of feeling began the minute Nebraska’s 2008 season ended. “We learned that you have to go through the bitter to get to the sweet,” said Brittany Pascale, a catcher and senior tri-captain. “This entire team has done everything we can to be better players and better competitors. We’ve been playing together four years, and never have we been so close to the finish line. There’s a lot of love on this team. There were plenty of opportunities to go south, but we’ve all pushed each other to get better. We’re all in this to win.”
Revelle senses a devout progression of a year-long commitment. “Here’s really the deal,” she said. “They never once quit on themselves or each other when there were some really hard times where they could have quit. Instead, they just kept chipping away. We never tried to belabor last season. We just tried to remember it because of the lessons we’ve learned through it. That’s what makes this whole recovery so meaningful. We can put a checkmark on getting back into the NCAA Tournament, but that’s not our goal. We want to win more games.”
The Huskers want to win more games because they have players who have combined for 1,646 starts on this team. Carwile, the only one who’s played a primary role in an NCAA Tournament, is expecting help from her veteran teammates this weekend and beyond.
“We’ve all battled through so much adversity,” she said. “We just want to feel that sense of pride and accomplishment again. We’re all bound and determined to get this program back to where we belong and among the elite again. Every senior on this team and every other player will fight tooth and nail to win this regional and move us on to the next step. I know this. We can play with any team in the Big 12, and we can play with any team in Division I. And we all welcome the chance to prove it.”
Hill’s Quotes on Fellow Seniors
“Every player on this team is capable of great hitting, great fielding and great throwing,” Hill said. “I’m so glad to get to play with my teammates and these coaches in the NCCA Tournament again. Our seniors have been incredibly resilient. We all have big personalities and bring different things to the table. Every single one of us is very, very different, yet we all get along really well. We all respect each other’s strengths and are okay with each other’s weaknesses.”
Asked for Cliff’s Notes quotes on her senior teammates, Hill responds quickly.
· Carwile . . . “a real fighter . . . played the whole season with a torn ACL.”
· Duran . . . “will do anything to be perfect and the best she can be.”
· Long . . . “extremely competitive . . . always trying to help us win.”
· Mullin . . . “consistent – in school, softball, even organizing team functions.”
· Pascale . . . “inspiring and hilarious . . . the funniest person I’ve ever met.”
· Rutherford . . . “very fun and really good at bouncing back.”
“We’re playing for the history of this program, but we’re also playing for ourselves,” Hill said. “We feel so fortunate to get this chance, but no one feels overwhelmed. I truly feel that if we just fight and play the way we can, we’re going to win this regional.”