Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Arkansas to open softball season Feb. 12
Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel talks to players during a game against Auburn on Sunday, May 5, 2019, in Fayetteville.
University of Arkansas softball Coach Courtney Deifel is used to answering questions from her players. That’s been a chore during a pandemic.
A little more uncertainty was cleared up Friday as the Razorbacks released their 2021 schedule.
“It’s been difficult because we’ve kinda been sitting in a holding pattern,” Deifel said. “When I told the team the other day, they were ecstatic. That’s how we know we’re doing it for them and it’s an exciting place to be.”
Arkansas will begin its season by traveling to Louisiana-Monroe for a tournament Feb. 12-14. The Razorbacks will head to Texas-Arlington for another three-day event a week later.
The home opener at Bogle Park is set for Feb. 25 against North Dakota State. The first pitch for that game is slated for 5 p.m. Arkansas will also host two tournaments — the Razorback Invitational on Feb. 26-28 and the Woo Pig Classic on March 5-7.
Texas Tech, North Dakota State, Southeast Missouri State and Stony Brook make up the field of the Razorback Invitational. Kansas, Drake and Northwestern State will join Arkansas in the Woo Pig Classic.
All the uncertainty with covid-19 makes a coach’s job more difficult, Deifel said.
“It’s a tough position not having all the answers,” she said. “Not that we have all the answers, but a big part of our job is to provide that. So when you’re sitting in uncertainty, it’s a tough spot to be.”
Players must remain flexible, but that’s something they are used to, Deifel said.
“I think softball or baseball, sports like that, we have flexibility and versatility built into our DNA just by the nature of our sport,” Deifel said. “This is not super foreign to our players, which is really, really good.
“We know we’re gonna get thrown some curve balls this year, and we’re ready for that.”
Arkansas was originally scheduled to participate in a tournament at North Carolina State on the opening weekend, but it was canceled. Deifel quickly picked up the Louisiana-Monroe event to fill the date.
The team will travel by bus the first two weekends, Deifel said. The Razorbacks will fly by charter during SEC play to limit contact.
“We’re making adjustments to how we travel,” Deifel said. “It’s two pretty easy bus trips. We’ll take two buses and make sure everyone is spread out.”
Deifel is set to begin her sixth season at Arkansas, and she believes this team could be her strongest. Arkansas finished 19-6 with a No. 19 national ranking last season, which was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. Five of the six seniors chose to return for another year as the NCAA allowed all athletes an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic.
Two Razorbacks have earned preseason honors. Junior outfielder Hannah McEwen and senior pitcher Autumn Storms have been named to Softball America’s preseason College Top 100.
McEwen earned a No. 26 preseason ranking after registering the nation’s 15th best on-base percentage (.565) with a team-leading .418 batting average last year. The San Diego native was ranked No. 69 in 2020.
Storms racked up an SEC-leading 11 victories last season and notched a No. 57 preseason ranking from Softball America. She finished second in the SEC by allowing 1.16 walks per 7 innings, fourth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.08) and seventh in ERA (1.16).
Arkansas opens its 24-game SEC schedule at South Carolina on March 12-14, then hosts Ole Miss the following weekend. Mississippi State (March 26-28), Alabama (April 9-11) and Missouri (April 23-25) also will face the Razorbacks at Bogle Park. The SEC Tournament will be held at Alabama’s Rhoades Stadium on May 12-15.
The Razorbacks will also take on in-state foe Central Arkansas for the first time in program history. Arkansas travels to Conway on March 9, with UCA making the return trip to Fayetteville on April 20.
2021 Arkansas softball schedule
Feb. 12-14 — at Louisiana-Monroe Tournament
Feb. 19-21 — at Texas-Arlington Tournament
Feb. 25 — North Dakota State
Feb. 26-28 — Razorback Invitational
March 5-7 — Woo Pig Classic
March 9 — at Central Arkansas
March 12-14 — at South Carolina
March 16 — Liberty
March 19-21 — Ole Miss
March 23 — at Missouri-Kansas City
March 24 — at Kansas
March 26-28 — Mississippi State
April 2-4 — at Auburn
April 6 — Missouri State
April 9-11 — Alabama
April 16-18 — at Georgia
April 20 — Central Arkansas
April 23-25 — Missouri
April 30-May 2 — at LSU
May 12-15 — SEC Tournament (in Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Start times are still to be determined
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