WCWS field united by a single goal

OKLAHOMA CITY — It's the eave of the Women's College World Series and all eight teams have come to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium with one thing on their mind: winning a national championship.

Whether you talk to the head coach of defending National Champion Arizona State, Clint Myers, first time participant Ken Eriksen representing South Florida, virtual home school head coach Patty Gasso and her players or coaches from the SEC schools, who have never won a title, the goal is universal.

These teams have set foot at the pinnacle of college softball to win a national championship.

Now, it's just about doing it.

All eight squads seek five, maybe six wins to hoist the trophy.

"I told the team today that the hard part has already happened," Gasso said. "Now, it's time to go out there and have fun with what you're doing. The hard part is getting here. Going through Arizona, UCLA and all the teams we had to go through. All the teams had to go through a tough road and it makes us better."

And it's not that the road gets any easier for any of the teams now.

Gasso's Sooners face the South Florida Bulls, who staved off elimination twice in the Super Regional round and are just as hungry as anyone to get their first potential national championship in their inaugural WCWS appearance.

"It's an honor to represent your school in the national championship of your sport," Eriksen said. "I think this year, more than any other year, I've been coaching and coaching against the great coaches up here. It's been a wide open field all year long. It's been a very exciting parity-type of season for NCAA Division I softball. I'm really looking forward to this week because I think you're going to see some really good softball from a really good number of teams."

One of those is the nation's No. 1 overall national seed, the California Golden Bears, who bring a ridiculous 56-5 record into the event.

But even with that mark, skipper Diane Ninemire realizes the challenge that lies ahead of her squad against LSU and the rest of the field, evidenced by some contests this season.

"I know even in our Pac-12 Conference this year anybody can beat anybody on any given day," Ninemire said. "You couldn't take anybody lightly. You had to have your best pitching going that day, your best hitting, your best defense. It just really makes you have to be prepared for every game and be ready for it."

The Tigers, though, they aren't probably the strongest or most intimidating team in the field by any means, have turned it on at the right time.

Losers of four straight, including a 1-0 SEC Tournament setback to Florida, heading into regional play, LSU did what any team has to do to get to the Women's College World Series: get hot.

They tore through the College Station Regional, knocking off future SEC foe Texas A&M twice, and then beating fellow future SEC opponent Missouri two out of three times in the Columbia Super Regional.

"Basically after the SEC Tournament, the coaches just talked to us and they said, ‘You know, from here on out, everybody is even," said LSU senior infielder Juliana Santos. "It doesn't matter what you did, it matters what you do from here on out. Everybody is going into the postseason 0-0.'"

They bought into it, and voila, they're one of the eight teams in the field.

So, too, are the Alabama Crimson Tide and Tennessee Volunteers, who will square off in an All-SEC opening round battle after they split two games in Tuscaloosa during the regular season.

Don't think those two aren't excited about it, either.

"It was a great two games," said Alabama sophomore pitcher Jackie Traina. "We can't contest that both teams had a lot of fun. Tennessee is a great team and it's always fun to play a great team like them. Playing them tomorrow will be fun; we'll see how it goes."

Lady Vols senior outfielder Ashley Andrews had similar sentiments.

"A lot of what Jackie just said, but I know with me and our coaching staff and my teammates, we respect Alabama so much," Andrews said. "They are one of the teams that we respect the most in the SEC. We always love playing them. We always have great games with them, so we are really excited."

Just as there's an All-SEC matchup, there's an All-Pac 12 battle on that side of the bracket as well.

Myers' Sun Devil squad, who lost twice on its path to Oklahoma City but still made it, looks to starting defending its title by defeating the Oregon Ducks.

"The parity across the country, the rivalries between the conferences; the toughest part is getting here," Myers said. "The regionals are getting a lot more quality teams. The super regionals speak for themselves. I mean, look at who you had in the super regionals. Then, the eight teams that were fortunate to get here. It's going to be a great show, great competition. All of us are excited to be here."

Oregon, on the other hand, hopes to snag a National Championship after turning a 16-34 season a year ago into a 44-16 year so far and ending a long hiatus from the WCWS.

"I know it has been 23 years since the Ducks have been to the College World Series," said Oregon head coach Mike White. "Cheers to every single player on our team that has dreamt about being in this situation. We are super excited to be here."

See, the fact of the matter is every team is.

They are happy to be here, but not content with it.

Every team has one goal.

Oklahoma, South Florida, California, LSU, Alabama, Tennessee, Oregon and Arizona State each want to be the one dog-piling on the field.

It's finally time to see which out of those eight will.

Follow me at twitter.com/joeyhelmer10 or facebook.com/joeyhelmer.

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