Eugene, Ore. -- This time last season, Oregon softball players and coaches couldn't wait for the season to start. If nothing else, it would be so questions from the media stopped revolving around the seemingly endless transfers and offseason drama to the actual performances on the field. With a week left until the 2019 season, Oregon was still holding tryouts to fill out the roster.
What a difference a year makes.
"This whole month of January, we've been strategizing and preparing," says head coach Melyssa Lombardi. "Last year we were just trying to have enough to put on the field. It's been different and it's been exciting."
That feeling resonates with her team as well, especially the group that had to go through the adversity of last season that, while ending with no NCAA Tournament run, did have highlights such as an early season win over no. 8 LSU and a road win against eventual nationl champion UCLA. With only a week until this season some of those returning athletes, along with the new freshmen and transfers that joined this offseason, are starting to feel something they haven't felt yet at Oregon.
"A couple weeks ago we had a night practice and it was pretty cool because we were going through everything," Lombardi recalls. "And then all of a sudden it was almost as if they got to see what we look like together and what we're capable of. And I think that practice ignited them to really put in their time and to be their best with the practices that have followed. So I'm anxious and excited. I'm not stressed, I'm ready to go."
"A lot less tears," jokes junior utility Shaye Bowden. "Definitely a lot less stress. I would say we're all really excited to see the group that was original from the fall. This year, we like our not-having-surprises in a sense and getting to stay as our unit."
The Ducks have had no attrition from the fall season to the spring, and are bolstered by not only their freshmen class, but also transfers like pitchers Samaria Diaz and Brooke Yanez. Along with Jordan Dail and freshman Makenna Kliethermes, Oregon will have a four person rotation this season, giving Lombardi options for the season ahead. It will also provide some relief for Dail, who pitched a stunning 248 innings over 45 appearances, which led the Pac-12 by more than 70 innings.
Transfer infielder Mya Felder and catcher Terra McGowan will contend for starting slots as well. For McGowan specifically, there is a unique excitement given what the redshirt freshman had to go through in the 2019 season. Arizona State, her original school, blocked her bid for immediately eligibility, keeping her sidelined during a year in which the Ducks needed bodies more than anything else. After sitting next to coach Lombardi every game last season, McGowan is ready to make a difference in 2020.
"Last year was a little bit rough on me but it was exciting to see the team dynamic and I was really close to everyone and they really welcomed me," says McGowan. "But I'm really excited to play my role this year and give the staff, the university and my team the season that they really deserve because I see the work they put in and it's awesome."
"During the games, [Coach Lombardi] had me right next to her so it was really beneficial to see her pitch calling, to talk to her about certain plays and watching things progress in game time and breaking it down from a sideline perspective cause I've never been there before. So having a different point of view has been really good for me and I can see things she's taught me already coming out so it's really good."
The Ducks will head to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge and will face five teams over the course of three days. The slate begins with Utah Valley, followed by a doubleheader with BYU and George Washington, a Saturday matchup with Nevada and a finish against Long Beach State.