VIRGINIA BEACH (WAVY) – The Virginia Wesleyan softball team finds itself in a scenario very similar to this time a year ago. The Marlins (43-2, 20-0 Old Dominion Athletic Conference) are the top-ranked team in the country heading into the NCAA Regional.
As the no. 1 team in the nation a season ago, their dreams of a national championship were dashed in the regional round. “I think we learned that nothing is given to us,” said Elizabeth Bailey, a senior outfielder out of Greenbrier Christian School in Chesapeake. But it was after his team’s gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to Salisbury that head coach Brandon Elliott had come to a realization.
“The message to the kids (this year) is, let’s try to out-love our opponents,” said Elliott, who was named the ODAC Coach of the Year. “Let’s try and out-love what they’re doing.”
Sounds simple, but it’s a message his team has embraced wholeheartedly. “It’s not about the rankings, even though the rankings are cool,” said Cassetty Howerin, the ODAC Player of the Year. “Being the family we are is definitely a lot of fun.” Sure enough, spend five minutes at a Marlins practice, you may see an outfielder sitting in a bucket meant for the softballs, you’ll hear wise-cracks, and you’ll certainly hear a lot of laughs.
The numbers suggest Elliott’s message has translated on the field. Freshman Hannah Hull was named the ODAC Rookie and Pitcher of the year, earning 24 wins and striking out 275 batters with a .53 earned run average, Cassetty leads or is tied for the lead in a handful of batting categories, including home runs (11), but numbers aside, there is one thing Elliott and his team are not afraid to talk about.
“We talk about ‘B-HAGS;’ Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals,'” said Elliot. Our ‘B-HAG’ for the last 10 years is to try and win a national championship.”
His teams have fallen in the regional round the last three straight seasons, but each year brings about a new team, a new challenge, and in this case, new optimism.
” We haven’t had a ton of success in NCAA regions. So our focus is on where ever we go, try to win that one, and we’ll worry about the rest of it as it comes,” said Elliott.