For the first time in program history, NC State has reached the NCAA Softball Regionals for a third straight season. The Wolfpack is in the Harrisonburg Regional and will go up against Fordham on Friday at 2 p.m. in its first match. Binghamton and host James Madison round out the group.
Before the season, NC State head coach Shawn Rychcik and the team openly talked about becoming a program that not only reached postseason play annually, but also made some noise in May. The Pack has yet to advance to a Super Regional but in Rychcik’s two years as head coach the team has reached the finals of the regional--coming within one win of advancing in 2014.
The resolve to advance further is now augmented by a comfort in its opposition. NC State played and defeated both Fordham and Binghamton in Raleigh earlier this season. In Rychcik’s first year as coach, the then-ACC Champions advanced to Knoxville for its regional and played against James Madison, defeating the Dukes twice. The highlight came in the first matchup when then-senior Bethaney Wells belted a homer over the rightfield fence that smashed into the James Madison team bus.
Senior Renada Davis knows things have changed since the games played against the three schools, both for them and for NC State, but the previous encounters do provide some belief that the Wolfpack will match up well in Harrisonburg.
“That builds some confidence because you know the teams here but at the same time you can’t come out and just expect to win,” Davis said. “You can’t expect them to come out and just roll over. Everybody plays harder in the postseason and everybody plays with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. You definitely can’t take them lightly.”
Entering the regional, NC State has won nine of its last 10 matches. The Wolfpack has used late-season bursts to reach the postseason in each of Rychcik’s first two years coaching the Wolfpack and he feels that is the best way to enter the NCAA Championships.
“That is something that is always important--to have things going in the right direction heading into the postseason,” Rychcik said. “I think we have been doing a lot of good things. We’ve had some good pitching and some real timely hitting. Those are some key ingredients going forward.”
Davis and Emily Weiman tend to be looked at as the heart of the team. While the two seniors are undoubtedly as talented a duo as most teams could hope for, there is much more to the Wolfpack according to Davis.
“Our lineup has stepped up a lot,” Davis said. “You have Tyler Ross hitting awesome and Morgan Tharrington has been getting really big, timely hits--same thing with Lana [Van Dyken]. Just our whole lineup has developed and we have really meshed into a producing lineup.”
NC State is now in the mix among the better softball programs in the nation. The seniors on the team came from a losing record as freshmen to taking the Wolfpack to new heights in their final season. Before their careers end, there is one more mountain they would like to climb.
“I think we have an awesome shot of coming out of this regional,” Sara Lippard said. “We have a great mindset. We know that we have an awesome shot of winning this regional. We are just going to go in there, work hard and do the best that we can to put some runs on the board and get to Super Regionals for the first time.”