Van Horn, Deifel: Being away from team the hardest part

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel watches from the third-base coaches box against Southeast Missouri Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, during the fourth inning at Bogle Park on the university campus in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel watches from the third-base coaches box against Southeast Missouri Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, during the fourth inning at Bogle Park on the university campus in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — In a perfect world, Arkansas softball coach Courtney Deifel would be preparing and gameplanning for the Razorbacks' three-game series at Missouri this weekend.

The Tigers began SEC play earlier this month with a convincing sweep of Ole Miss and stood at 19-7 prior to the cancellation of spring sports across the country due to the spread of covid-19.

But instead of being wrapped up in pitching matchups and possible lineup adjustments, Deifel is home doing her best to keep her two young boys, ages 2 and 4, from fighting one another and out of trouble as the popular Disney movie Frozen 2 plays in the background.

That is her new reality with no games to be played, practices to plan or face-to-face interactions with Razorbacks players and staff.

This Arkansas team, which was 18-6 overall and gearing up to make a push toward a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance under Deifel, was one of her favorite groups she has had the opportunity to coach.

"That's the hardest part, not being around the players," she said Wednesday on a teleconference that included Dave Van Horn, Lance Harter and Chris Bucknam. "When we made the conference call to announce the end of the season, the girls were all saying they wish they could see everyone's faces. I think that's the hardest part, not being around them.

"It's one of the most united groups. They are really close and just committed to the program and doing what's best for the program and everyone. So that's the hardest part, not seeing them every day. They are 20 sisters and 20 best friends."

Moving forward, Deifel said everyone in the program is working to find ways to stay connected and fill the void of a lost season. She also wants players to keep perspective and make sure they are doing their small part in the grand scheme of things to get through this situation.

Deifel estimated that half of her players are still in Fayetteville, and half have returned home. She added that her team has handled the disappointments of last week very well.

"It's heartbreaking that our team and all the teams worked their butts off for this season, and it's been one of the craziest years in college softball to start," said Deifel, who was once interrupted during the call by one of her sons asking to use the restroom. "I think all of us were really excited to see the season through, just with the parity and the strength across the country, but that's still going to be here next year.

"It's just the time off and making the most of it, and making sure we're in the right mindset to move forward when we're allowed to."

Meanwhile, Razorbacks baseball coach Dave Van Horn, who won his 700th game at Arkansas on March 11 against Grand Canyon, has been on the phone a lot of late, speaking with coaches. He has visited his office at Baum-Walker Stadium some, too.

In an effort to calm down, he said, he has been exercising and working on his land, just trying to break a sweat.

The brotherhood of the locker room and being around players and coaches daily is a way of life, he said. For now, that has been taken away, and it is a tough pill to swallow.

"You’re used to being around them every day," said Van Horn, who does not expect Casey Martin, Casey Opitz and Heston Kjerstad to return to the program. "As coaches, usually this time of year we’re traveling, we’re in hotels, we’re on the road more than any sport at the university, I would think, with six days on and one day off. The one day off, those guys come to the field.

"They like being down there, they like being in the locker room. ... That’s probably the thing if you talk to any athlete that they miss (most) - the locker room and being around the guys and just the whole atmosphere and the camaraderie."

It is a part of the game Van Horn already misses, and he feels most for his players. When he addressed the team last Friday, he was met with looks of devastation around the clubhouse. Most in the room were in shock, he said.

"Normally I stand up when I talk to the team. I sat down because it was tough," Van Horn added. "For me personally, you just didn’t get to finish the book."

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