FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas softball team has not shied away from making it clear one of its goals in 2024 is to make history.
The Razorbacks are aiming for their first Women’s College World Series appearance, something they have been close to accomplishing over the past three years. Arkansas lost last year at its own regional and in 2021 and 2022 at home super regionals.
“Every year that I've been here, we've made it to postseason, but I haven't made it past the super regionals,” said Arkansas redshirt-senior Rylin Hedgecock, who hit 21 home runs in 2023. “I think that every girl's dream is to make it to the College World Series, and I think that we've been pushing really hard to compete at a level to where we can make it to the championship and win a national championship.
“Every single day we push ourselves to our highest limit so that we can make it there, but especially it being my last year, it would mean a lot to be able to play on that highest stage.”
The Razorbacks, ranked 12th in the ESPN/USA Softball preseason poll, begin their quest Thursday against Marshall at the Paradise Classic in Boca Raton, Fla. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. Central.
It is the first game of a doubleheader to open the season for Arkansas, which is scheduled to face Florida Atlantic, the invitational’s host, at 6 p.m. The Razorbacks are also scheduled to play Ohio, Penn State and Michigan State over a three-day stay.
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Ninth-year Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel said the team’s inclusion at the Paradise Classic was a last-minute schedule change and was possible due to her friendship with FAU coach Jordan Clark.
Clark was a volunteer assistant at Arkansas for Deifel from 2016-18 and is in her second season as head coach of the Owls. She is someone Deifel said is “an incredible leader,” among other praiseworthy remarks.
“She actually did us a favor,” Deifel said. “They let us in the tournament late. We were in another one and we had to pivot, and so she did us a favor, which is nice.”
Florida Atlantic will make a trip to Fayetteville in return for the Wooo Pig Classic at Bogle Park from Feb. 29-March 3.
Deifel, who has been on the opposite end of playing against a mentor, said it is a strange feeling.
“We haven't for a while now, but we had some really good matches with Oklahoma,” Deifel said. “And so being a [graduate assistant for Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso from 2008-09] in that system and then playing against them is a very interesting dynamic. It’s not just it's the game, but it's so much bigger than that, just kind of like getting to share the field and compete against them.
“The good thing is that knowing them and knowing Jordan, I know we're going to have a great game. It’s just going to be about the game, and although we obviously really want to win, you always like playing good people [who play] the game the right way.”
Four of the Razorbacks’ games at the Paradise Classic will be available on the subscription streaming service FloSoftball. Arkansas’ game against Florida Atlantic will stream free online at fausports.com/watch.
Arkansas' games at the Paradise Classic (all times Central)
Thursday, 1 p.m. — Marshall (FloSoftball)
Thursday, 6 p.m. — Florida Atlantic (FAUsports.com)
Friday, 10:30 a.m. — Ohio (FloSoftball)
Saturday, 8 a.m. — Penn State (FloSoftball)
Saturday, 10:15 a.m. — Michigan State (FloSoftball)