For any competitive sports team, a record of 7-19 is usually not the way a team wants to begin a season.
The same is true for the U softball team, but the difference is that the Utes still might be on the right track for completing their primary objectives for the season.
The team was on the road for the first half of the season and faced some of the best teams in the nation. It is now heading into the second half of the season, where it will compete for the conference title.
“I told our players that the hardest part of the season is over,” U softball coach Mona Stevens said.
Even though the team couldn’t get over the hump and win most of the games against its tougher opponents, the Utes have now played teams that are better than the ones they are going to face for the rest of the season.
“We have realistically faced the best hitters out there,” Stevens said. “With every team we have faced, they have thrown their best pitchers at us and it has prepared us.”
After gaining experience from facing such strong opponents, the players are much more optimistic than they were during the first half of the season.
“Seeing how hard they practiced today and how well they are working together, I can tell they are really committed to doing well in the second half of the season,” Stevens said.
The Utes played many ranked teams, which was not the schedule that Stevens wanted.
“I wouldn’t have picked that many tough teams to play,” Stevens said. “I would have rather played a good mix of teams, so the team would have their confidence and then take shots from the best teams out there. We could never regroup.”
Even though the team’s confidence was shaken throughout the first half of the season, it seems to have gotten it together and is excited about being at home.
“The players are excited because 13 of the next 16 play dates are in state, so they are somewhat renewed and excited,” Stevens said.
“They have a lot of belief in what they are capable of.”
The practices, according to Stevens, have been amazing, as the team is displaying an increase in its work ethic.
“The hitters are working incredibly hard, while the pitchers have been pitching well and hard the entire week, Stevens said, “They believe in themselves now as a group.”
That wasn’t the case through the entire season.
“We were really heartbroken at times, but now we are back together and are looking to take the next step,” Stevens said.
The team has taken the losses that it suffered in the past in stride, and is trying to change them into positives.
“We are trying to take those games where we were knocking on the door with teams from the top 25 and remembering that we were right there,” Stevens said. “Now we have a chance to take that and get over the hump in conference play.”
But that doesn’t mean they are happy with the seven wins they recorded in the first half of the season.
“The players are disappointed in their results and we did not succeed [like] we are capable of,” Stevens said. “However, one of the biggest successes is the fact that these kids have not, at this point, had their resolve shaken in any way,” Stevens said,
Now that the team is facing teams that aren’t as talented, it by no means suggests that the Utes are destined to win the title.
“It is going to be really tough, especially if you look at a team like San Diego State,” Stevens said. “They have had a tough schedule too, and have won some games and look really tough.”
But there is still a drop in talent level, which the Utes will take advantage of.
According to Stevens, the top teams had an advantage that really distinguished them from the rest of the field and made it hard for the Utes to overcome many of the tougher opponents that they faced.
“Pitching is the difference. The biggest difference between the conferences and better teams is if you have good pitching, “Stevens said. “If you have the pitching to hold people, your defense and your offense relax and play much better.”
There are teams around the country that have risen and fallen with the success or absence of a particular pitcher.
“If you look at Tennessee, you can see how important a pitcher is. Before the season, they were not ranked at all and this freshman, Monica Abbott, comes out and tears it up, which is the reason they are doing so well. Now they are ranked eighth.”
On the other hand, there is a team like Texas, which doesn’t have its best pitcher, Cat Osterman, who is competing for the national softball team.
“Texas doesn’t have their big gun and they are really down right now, but when she gets back, there will be a tremendous improvement,” Stevens said. The pitching disparity is quite large, and now the Utes won’t have to deal with facing the top flight pitchers.
The teams they will face are easier than the ones they had faced, but Stevens still knows what the Utes have to do in order to realize their goals.
“We just need to keep focus and work hard,” Stevens said. “Nothing is going to come easy.”