Deifel discovered passion for coaching under OU's Gasso

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel prepares to step into the team huddle against Wichita State Saturday, May 19, 2018, at Bogle Park during the NCAA Fayetteville Softball Regional on the university campus in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel prepares to step into the team huddle against Wichita State Saturday, May 19, 2018, at Bogle Park during the NCAA Fayetteville Softball Regional on the university campus in Fayetteville.

— Courtney Deifel went to Oklahoma to pursue a masters degree in human relations following an illustrious playing career at Cal and a short professional stint in Japan.

Deifel, then Courtney Scott, reached the Women's College World Series each of her four seasons at Cal and played a key role in the program's 2002 national championship run as a catcher. She played in 285 games in her Golden Bears career, missing only three games behind the plate.

The 2003 All-American landed in Norman, Okla., with the aspirations of doing social work and making a difference in the lives of children. To help make ends meet, she was a graduate assistant under long-time Sooners coach Patty Gasso.

It was in Norman where she discovered her passion for coaching.

"I wanted to make a difference with people in any form that that was," Deifel said. "And that’s what Patty said early: ‘Well, this is social work.’ You get to work with 18-to-22 year olds in the most influential time in their life and have a hand in growing them up.

"She’s exactly right. It’s an incredible job. It’s an incredible time in their lives and the fact that I get such a heavy hand in how to prepare them to handle the world, it’s just pretty cool."

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Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso during a news conference in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) + Enlarge

Deifel was a GA at Oklahoma for two seasons, in 2007 and 2008, and the Sooners reached the super regionals both years. She then went on to become an assistant at Maryland and Louisville, where she was part of teams made five NCAA regional appearances.

This weekend, Deifel gets to carry her team back to where her coaching career began – to the Norman Super Regional against Gasso and her 21-year pitching coach Melyssa Lombardi.

Deifel said she and Gasso remain in touch quite a bit. She credits Gasso and Lombardi for keeping her mind open to experiencing softball from a coach's perspective.

"By the end of my year-and-a-half there I knew this I what I wanted to do," Deifel said. "They showed me what it’s like to be on the other side and the difference that you can make. Missy Lombardi showed me what I could do as a pitching coach and that strategy piece that I love so much.

"I would credit them for why I’m in coaching and them for showing me what it should look like."

This is the seventh time Arkansas has been sent to Oklahoma in its eight NCAA postseason appearances. The Razorbacks have played six regionals at Marita Hynes Field and have never advanced, including last season when they were eliminated by the Sooners in the NCAA Tournament with a 5-3 loss in Norman.

Arkansas is 2-23 all-time against Oklahoma, including 0-5 in the postseason, and have not won in Norman since 2009. Arkansas players are confident Deifel's knowledge of the Oklahoma program – as well as their own experiences from last season – will benefit them this weekend.

Oklahoma appeared in the World Series each of the four seasons Deifel's Cal teams did. Add it all up, and Deifel has great deal of history with the Sooners.

"She’s really close with Coach Gasso, and with her experience of the program, and even seniors and upperclassmen on the team, it’s a team we’re pretty familiar with," senior left fielder Tori Cooper said. "We always played them pretty close even early in my career when we weren’t having great success."

Third baseman Autumn Buczek, who made a highlight-reel catch in foul territory to record the final out of the Fayetteville Regional, said Deifel will take the insights she has on the Sooners and form a specific game plan for Oklahoma.

"She has a ton of knowledge of the game just in general, but just her knowledge of their coaching staff and how they play is going to be great for us," Buczek said. "And I think it kind of gives us a leg up on their pitching staff. She knows pitching so well and has done such a great job with our pitching staff.

"Her knowledge of how they like to pitch the game is going to be really big for us and give us an advantage. And how to pitch them as well; she kind of knows their hitters and their hitting philosophy, so she’s going to know how to beat them at the plate."

Deifel enjoys playing the underdog role. Her Cal teams thrived with that mentality and she has implemented that at Arkansas. She knows the challenges that await in Norman, but said her team hasn't changed the way it has prepared this week for the two-time defending national champions.

"Are they good or something?" Deifel joked with reporters on Wednesday. "It is what it is. ... They're very good. But they are just another softball team, and when we show up on Friday night, they don't get a headstart because of all the things they've done in the past or even what they've done over the course of the year.

"All I know is our girls have a lot of fight and a lot of heart."

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