Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Talent level high for young UA softball team
Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel (center) talks with players during a practice Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Courtney Deifel said defense should be a calling card for this year’s University of Arkansas softball team.
“When you’re looking at the skill piece of it, this team can really play defense,” Deifel said via Zoom last weekend. “It doesn’t matter who we put out there. They can pick it. They can run it down — very, very skilled defensively, and this team can run. We have a lot of speed. We have a lot more speed than we’ve had in the past.”
The Razorbacks hit the Bogle Park field Sunday afternoon for the first official practice of the season with media in attendance.
Arkansas has been known for its power bats the past few seasons. Deifel also said the team’s youth could be seen as a hardship by others, but she said it could be a positive.
“I think one of the biggest differences which people are using against us is that we’re young,” Deifel said. “I think that’s just as much a strength as it could be a question mark to people outside of our bubble.
"But I think our youth is going to play to our advantage. I also think we’re going to have some challenges with that and I’m really, really looking forward to what this team is going to do. I think you’re recruiting the right kids just fine-tuning what they do. Obviously, they already compete at a really high level. They caught your eye with their skillset.”
The ball was still flying out of Bogle Park with great frequency Sunday afternoon.
Junior utility player Hannah Gammill, a first-team NFCA All-American a year ago and native Arkansan from Beebe, said the group is coming together well off the field already.
“This is, in my opinion, off the field, this has been one of the better connections that we’ve had,” Gammill said following Sunday’s workout. “On the field, we obviously still have some work to do getting used to each other. But I feel like we’re growing and time will take care of that.
“Connection on the field and off the field, I feel, is stronger than it has been in the past. I would say if we are fully connected as a team, I think everything else will take care of itself. Learning newcomers and how they play is the most important part. It comes from practice. I go over and hang out, building friendships and relationships."
The Razorbacks brought in a nationally acclaimed signing class, which includes nine freshmen and several are ranked inside the 2022 Extra Inning Softball’s Top 100 list. Kylie Brockman of Kansas City, Kan., is rated No. 19 in the Extra Inning list. She’s also a two-time powerlifting state champion and Kansas 5A state runner-up in the javelin in track and field.
Deifel likes the group of newcomers she’s brought in, both freshmen and transfers.
“I think we’re in a good spot," she said. "We have a really strong base...incredibly talented, athletic and really coachable. It makes those fine-tuning things a lot easier. Nothing’s easy but they’re so receptive. They just want to be as good as they can be.”
She’s also anxious to have opponents be forced to prepare the group’s speed and athleticism more so than just the power bats. The Razorbacks drew the moniker Bogle Bombers the last couple of years because of their penchant for the long ball.
But defense will be a major facet that the team will lean on this season, she added.
“You can’t just put the corners behind the bases and get ready for a hard-hit ball,” Deifel said. “You have to defend everything. It just opens up the game so much more. But then also two extra steps in the outfield on that gap shot it’s huge, huge on both sides.
“I would hope it’s harder for people to prepare for us.”
The Razorbacks will have a little more than a month to prepare for their season opener on Feb. 10 in Las Vegas, taking part of the Rebel Kickoff. They are scheduled to play in the Taxact Clearwater Invitational in Florida a week later.
Arkansas will then play a string of 16 games at Bogle Park. The home opener against Arizona is slated for Feb. 23.
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