This is Penn softball’s big moment.
Starting Friday, No. 16 Texas A&M will host a four-team double elimination tournament for the NCAA Softball Regional Finals including Baylor, Arizona and Penn. The Quakers are matched up with Texas A&M and their first game against the Aggies starts at 6 p.m. Friday.
While the attention is focused on the nationally storied teams, the Quakers feel they have everything to gain and nothing to lose in their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
“Sometimes you can press a big team like this and things will begin to turn in your favor,” coach Leslie King said. “We are certainly not afraid of [them].”
This marks the first NCAA Tournament appearance for Penn, an experience that King calls “a great privilege,” after beating Dartmouth in the Ivy League Championship Series earlier this month.
The Aggies are making their 12th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, and this weekend marks their third straight season hosting in the regional finals. ESPN analyst Michele Smith chose the College Station Regional as the most difficult competition of the nation’s sixteen regional sites, also including Baylor and Arizona as the other two teams facing each other in the bracket.
Indeed, Baylor has made two Women’s College World Series, and Arizona has won eight championships and made 21 WCWS appearances.
But the Quakers enter the competition as the only reigning conference champions, earning an automatic postseason bid. Despite the intimidating field, the Quakers have been approaching this competition with the same mentality as an Ivy opponent.
“We haven’t tried to change anything drastically,” freshman pitcher Lauren Li said. “We just want to make sure our pitchers [and hitters] are sharp. We are trying to make each pitch a little bit better,”
If there is one player who may feel a little pressure, it’s sophomore pitcher Alexis Borden. Arguably one of the best Ivy pitchers in recent years, Borden wants to show that she is just as good as any of the pitchers in the other conferences.
“I’m going out there to just show that I can hang with the best of the best,” Borden said. “Just because I chose to go to an academic school, doesn’t mean I’m not good at softball. I’m going out to show that I’m the best of both worlds.”
But before the Quakers think ahead, they are staying humble and keeping it all in perspective.
“This is really exciting. We were happy to contribute to the program that the seniors have built for us,” Li says. “We are not trying to overthink this.”
King has said from the beginning of this special experience for the Quakers that it’s something to enjoy.
“We are going to play in a beautiful stadium against some great competition. We are gonna lay loose and enjoy our time.”
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