TIM PEELER: Wrapping Up 2008 Softball Season
BY TIM PEELER
The Pack lost 2-0 to defending-champion Virginia Tech in the title contest, narrowly missing an invitation to its third consecutive NCAA Regional.
Navas, who led the Pack to the 2006 ACC title in just the third year of the program, reflected on her team’s season and the careers of seniors Shanna Smith, Blair Harkey, Ashleigh Davis, Megan Dalthorp and Lisa Nentwig, who ended their careers after 164 victories.
After a rocky February, in which the Wolfpack went 8-9, Navas was pleased with the way her team played, especially the battery of sophomore pitcher Lindsay Campana and ACC Freshman of the Year Alyssa Allbritten.
But a disappointing end to the regular season, in which the Pack was swept by both North Carolina and Florida State on the road, put Navas and her team in a difficult position to earn another NCAA Regional bid. So, despite beating
Navas put the wraps on her team’s 31-27 season and looks forward to the future.
GoPack.com: How do you evaluate the season?
Navas: If look back at the whole season, other than the month of February, we played really well. There were so many games we lost by one run and a lot of games where we made mistakes that cost us. It took the kids awhile to really get it. Even in the fall, when we played
GoPack.com: After losing such a large senior class from last year, you knew this would be a rebuilding season, because you didn’t have the same experience as you did last year, right?
Navas: [Experience] was the only thing that we were lacking. We talked to the kids in the beginning about how everybody was telling us, as everybody always tells us, what kind of year we were going to have. We have never paid attention to them. We had talent to do some things. Lindsay Campana stepped up in terms of pitching, other kids stepped up in terms of hitting. As we have our post-season player meetings now, it’s pretty apparent that the kids kind of believed what other people were saying and they thought themselves out of some situations.
GoPack.com: What did you like about the team’s development throughout the season?
Navas: Even with the class that we had last year, we kept saying that we didn’t have any superstars. We had four or five great players. This class, when I look back, they didn’t have a strong identity. They didn’t create one. But I really enjoyed watching this team grow. I loved my staff. We had a good time. But we really did want so much more.
GoPack.com: What did it mean to the team and to you to be playing at the Curtis and Jacqueline Dail Softball Stadium?
Navas: The weather made it kind of miserable for the opening day, but it was exciting. We are still trying to establish our traditions of how we go to the field and how we do things. We still don’t have the outside batting cages and it’s kind of crazy to go down through the stands by the visiting team to get to our dugout, but it definitely makes a lot of things easier. It’s a great atmosphere. A lot more people came to the games, so they are noticing us. There are still some growing pains to fix in regards to the field.
GoPack.com: The trip to
Navas: At the end of the season, we had everything in front of us. We put a little pressure on ourselves. When you have so many new kids, going into finals for the first time after a big season, then having to travel to
GoPack.com: But after finals ended, the team seemed to relax and play better. What was the mindset going into the ACC Championship at
Navas: We kind of figured, “Hey, this is it.” We didn’t try to make it anything more. Lindsay was more focused than I have ever seen here. She did a phenomenal job and that’s all we have ever done in five years of the program, get one more run than the other team. We don’t so anything special. We have different people step up and get hits. That’s the signs of a championship team. We knew we played
GoPack.com: And in the championship game?
Navas: It was such a high on Saturday, and as much as we tried to bring them back to reality, it was difficult. After the game, we went to eat with the players’ families and it kind of took a long time to get into the restaurant and you want to allow them eat with their families and have a good time. But we got back to the hotel at 10 p.m. and they are still rowdy and riled up from it. We didn’t come from the emotional high very well. You could just see that they were a little tired in the championship game. They were just trying to recreate what happened the day before and you just can’t do that. Lindsay pitched well, though she wasn’t as sharp as she had been. If you go up tight against [Virginia Tech pitcher Angela] Tincher, you aren’t going to touch it. We needed to have better swings and get some luck and we didn’t. I feel horrible for [senior shortstop Shanna] Smith about the bobbled ball up the middle [in the second inning], because she is probably going to think about that play for a long time. But she was part of so many wins here, some of which she won by herself with key hits and defense.
GoPack.com: How disappointing was it to get that close and not get a third consecutive NCAA Regional bid?
Navas: I don’t even know if disappointment is the word. You coach and do everything for those kids to have the experience of playing in a regional and moving on. But we sat there in the lockerroom and stared at the television. When Georgia Tech’s name came up, we realized they were either not going to take five from our conference or Tech got the last spot. To me, it came down to the last couple of weeks, when we played
GoPack.com: So, in the end, how do you put the wraps on this season, in terms of the seniors that you lose and the underclassmen that you have coming back and what do you look forward to next season?
Navas: You hate for the seniors that they didn’t continue to play. As we sat there watching the selection show, they were just numb and you feel horrible for them. Those seniors were special because they came in for the second year of the program and they had to contribute in little ways. Blair and Shanna were starters for four years. To not have them will be difficult. They were ones that really contributed to getting those 40 wins and winning the ACC Championship two years ago.
GoPack.com: What do you think the returning players will take from this season?
Navas: With the other kids, my biggest focus is that it took you pretty much all year to get what I was talking about. What are you going to do with nine new recruits coming in? They said We are going to tell them ...’ and I said, well, that’s great, but I told you and you didn’t get it until after the regular-season. We can only take care of what we can take care of and get them maybe to gel a little quicker. Next year will be the biggest time of adjustment. Mackenzie Mangum will be the only player on the team that was part of winning the championship in 2006. We won’t have anyone else who has done it.
GoPack.com: How much thought have you put into what kind of team you will have next year, and who will be in the lineup?
Navas: The field is completely open. We know Lindsay is going to pitch and Alyssa is going to catch. What I am looking for is when they decide who they are and how good they want to be. After this year, a lot of them have decided they want to be better, so I told them they have between June 1 and August 20 to get better so that we can get better as a team. If not, we are going to move on without you.
GoPack.com: You do have a large recruiting class, but it does seem to be a talented group, right?
Navas: I don’t know. We will see when they get here. They are a good group of kids, but you never know.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.