Miami U's softball team is heading to its third consecutive NCAA tournament
The Miami Redhawks take on the University of Kentucky Friday afternoon. It's the first time the softball team has earned an NCAA Division I tournament birth in three consecutive years.
"They're overjoyed, they're excited," says Head Coach Kirin Kumar of the players. "They're ... more relaxed than they have been the last two years since they've kind of the been there (before)."
Kumar is in her third year with the team. She says the group has "grit."
"This is the first time ever in Miami history that they've done it three times in a row. Last year was the first time that we won the regular season and the tournament, and we did it again this year. It's extremely difficult to stay on top because (of the) expectations, and everybody's after you."
RELATED: Miami University adds Rams Super Bowl winner Sean McVay to Cradle of Coaches
The team travels to Evanston, Ill., Wednesday, and will practice on the field Thursday before beginning tournament play Friday at 1 p.m.. Along with Miami (37-18) and UK (30-20-1), the Evanston regional teams include Northwestern (38-11) and Eastern Illinois (34-19).
The winner of the three-day, double-elimination competition moves on to the Super Regional to compete for one of eight spots in the College World Series, starting June 1 in Oklahoma City.
"The goal for the season is to get to Supers (Super Regional)," Kumar says. "This is something that Miami has never done before, and this entire team has been doing things that have never been done before here. That's the first goal — you've got to win your regional and do what's never been done before here."
Kumar doesn't plan to change things up as the team prepares for the tournament. She says they'll do some tweaking, but otherwise keep with their routine.
She credits the players for sticking with the process and working together.
"They are wonderful humans and great teammates, and everybody loves to watch everybody else succeed, which is rare," she says. "We struggled a little bit in the beginning of the conference season and instead of giving up and saying 'this is harder than last year,' they just (bore) down and stuck with the process. That's the kind of ... young women they are. They know what works and they will continue to do it."
RELATED: Miami U Dropped Its Race-Based Mascot 20 Years Ago, Sees Benefits Today
For Kumar, the process is most rewarding when she sees who her players are off the field — "a group of student athletes ... an architecture major, we have a mechanical engineer, we have a nursing major, we have five grad students who are doing grad school while playing high level softball" — and the enjoyment they get from playing the game.
"I've been a player and ... you only get four years to play, so to get to watch them enjoying themselves and doing things that have never happened at Miami before, I love it. I love to see it on their faces — the pure joy when it happens."