Linfield’s championship softball team has officially started its pursuit of a second national ring.
It seems easy enough, with a whole list of returning players who all have as much experience as college athletes can get.
This scenario is all too familiar for Wildcat fans. Miracle title run, several key returning players and preseason favorites.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m referring to the 2005 Linfield football team. Talk around the nation was that the team was as close to a guaranteed second-straight national title.
That team had a strong start, and everything was going as expected until the playoffs, when it lost after a tough battle. After easy conference play, Linfield faced some talented opponents in the playoffs, but aspirations of a repeat title were foiled.
The reason this season will be more difficult for our defending softball champions is because each team will be coming into the game looking for its chance to beat the national victors. Teams have their date with the Wildcats circled in their calendars. Linfield will have to be ready to face each team. Full preparation is a must for the season.
Not much separates the 2005 football and this year’s softball teams. Both brought back tremendous players. Each team had a work ethic not to be outdone, giving them a good opportunity to be the best teams in their respective sports. Also, several players from the first championship run return to compete for their second title.
One of the major reasons I can see the softball team repeating its title is the competition it faces in the regular season. That is what sets the women apart from the 2005 football team.
The Northwest Conference is one of the deepest in the region. The players say it’s maybe the most talented conference in the nation. Playing high-quality opponents won’t make the road back to regionals any easier, but when it comes to the time when each game counts in the playoffs, the strong competition will have paid off for the ’Cats.
The challenge this year’s softball program has is playing as “the hunted.” Playing as close to perfect as possible will be a major test.
So far, the returning upperclassmen have continued to be the key to the Wildcats’ success this season.
Other teams’ defenses haven’t gained any ground on possibly the best offense in the nation at the Division III level, possibly the best in Wildcats history. The offense has shown it can explode at any time, earning several runs an inning. Twice, they have put up numerous runs in the late innings to give the ’Cats the edge.
With the expectation of the national title on their shoulders, the ’Cats are under a lot of pressure. But at the level they play every game, they have to beat themselves for another team to have a chance at beating them. With the experience and drive this team has, don’t expect to see that.