May 17, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas -
The Army softball team left West Point on a chartered bus at 4 a.m. Thursday morning, May 16, and though the players and staff were tired after getting just a few hours of sleep, everyone was excited about the upcoming trip to the NCAA Austin Regionals.
A few winks were grabbed on the way to the Newark Airport as the sun climbed over the horizon, and it was surprising how many people were on line for flights upon the team's arrival at 5:30 a.m.
With a few minutes to walk around the airport prior to the departure a 7:10 a.m., the players made excellent use of the time from visiting Starbucks to McDonalds with smaller places in between.
Excitement mounted when it was to board the plane with everyone rushing on get on board as Southwest Airlines does not assign seats. A majority liked the window, but it didn't really matter to the players where they sat, they were too wound up.
First stop was Nashville, Tenn., and just walking through the airport, you knew you were in Elvis Presley territory. It gave everyone a chance to stretch their legs and get a snack prior for the flight to San Antonio, Texas.
When the captain announced that the weather was in the 90s in Texas, the players and staff just laughed. The weather was expected to be that way all weekend, and just a few hours prior, the temperature in the Hudson Valley was in the 40s. Big difference in the temperature, but there were no complaints.
Four players are from the state of Texas - Alex Reynolds (Katie), Amanda Nguyen and Callie West (Houston) and Marina Northup (San Antonio) - and their families were at the airport there to greet the team with signs upon its arrival.
After hugging family and friends, the players were invited to visit the USO in the airport where they were supplied with treats and drinks as folks welcomed them to the Lone Star state.
The bus arrived and the players quickly grabbed luggage and equipment for time was short as the team was expected at the ball park in less than an hour. The trip to the Hotel resulted in dropping bags in rooms and quickly changing into softball gear.
Arriving at the Red & Charline McCombs Field was breathtaking. Around the stadium are pictures of Longhorn stars, past and present, and you knew that this field belonged exclusively to softball. No wonder why the Longhorns are regular NCAA participants.
While waiting to get on the field, as South Carolina was practicing when Army arrived, head coach Michelle DePolo was interviewed by the crew that will be broadcasting Friday's game on the Longhorn Network
They were quickly impressed when she told them that she was 27 years-old when hired as the head coach four years ago. The interview lasted 45 minutes as the questions ranged from recruiting to talking about the team and its accomplishments, mainly winning the Patriot League after bowing to top-seeded Lehigh 8-0 in six innings earlier in the tournament, then posting a twinbill shutout in the championship series.
DePolo pointed out that was the first time that Lehigh had been shut out by a league opponent since 1998.
Then it was on to practice. The team has played 40 percent of its games in sub-degree weather, and at the field the temperature was in the high 90s. Trainer Sam Visco and the staff were making certain the players were drinking enough water as they practiced hard.
Following a tough workout, the players went to change and Coach DePolo, along with Lt. Col. Kim Kawamoto, attended a coaches' meeting in the press box where all four teams met with the NCAA official explaining rules and interview policies, etc.
While DePolo was at the meeting, Officer Representative Col. Deb McDonald, along with assistant coaches Benet Higgs and Nicole Callahan, took the players to dinner at the Hula Hut, which was by the water. It was a relaxing time for everyone as they talked about their day that began at 4 am. Food arrived and was devoured.
Upon returning to hotel where the team was met by former Army head coach Jim Flowers, the majority went to bed in anticipation of meeting No. 4 Texas the next day. I wonder what the players dreamt.