The Arizona softball team sat in the stands at Hillenbrand Stadium on Sunday, May 16, and saw their names appear on the screen as hosts of the NCAA championship. This will mark 34 years in a row that Arizona will make the tournament, an NCAA record. After the festivities, the team hosted a press conference for the final time before tournament play starts.
When the brackets were released, many on the team were shocked to discover that not only was Arizona a No. 11 seed, but no Pac-12 team made the top 10. It upset Arizona even more when seven of the top 10 seeded teams were from the SEC. Nobody on the team thought it was fair and head coach Mike Candrea went as far as blaming sports media companies.
“The influence that ESPN has on our game is pretty interesting,” Candrea said. “I was okay for a while but then [I was not].”
Candrea said he also felt that the Pac-12 was snubbed from higher seeding in favor of the SEC.
“I do a ranking every week for USA softball,” Candrea said. “I compare what my rankings were … and the first five were accurate, but then I thought, how could Washington be a No. 16 seed? That hurts. Plus sending Oregon to Texas, come on. I know our conference is much better than what was shown today. When I turn on the SEC network, they have got a show that looks like ESPN … and that is going to catch eyes.”
Senior shortstop Jessie Harper also shared her dismay for the SEC and called out the ACC.
“I know there is a lot of love that goes to the SEC and unfortunately that is just how it is,” Harper said. “It is out of our control. To me, it seemed like the SEC and ACC tournament had a lot of [influence] on the rankings.”
Freshman outfielder Janelle Meono, who is in her first year, followed Harper’s lead in throwing shade towards the SEC.
“There’s a lot of SEC teams at the top which is kind of surprising for me,” Meono said. “Yeah, we have an SEC team [in our bracket,] but [Candrea] is telling us to take it one game at a time and focus on the first game we have.”
Regardless of everyone’s feelings towards the SEC, the brackets are not changing and Arizona still must beat their first opponent, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“We have to make sure that everyone is hitting to help produce runs for our pitchers,” Harper said. “Our pitchers are working hard in the circle for us, so we have to produce runs because that is something we have been struggling with. At the end of the day, you must score to win.”
Arizona will open the Tucson Regional against UMBC at Hillenbrand Stadium on Friday, May 21 at 5:30 p.m. MST.
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