OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - Ole Miss Softball Head Coach Mike Smith and select players met with members of the media on Wednesday as part of a press conference for this weekend's NCAA Softball Oxford Regional. Coach Smith and players discussed the team's season and shared their thoughts on what is to come during the regional.
HEAD COACH MIKE SMITH
"It's a great day to be a Rebel. We're excited about being able to host a regional here. Two years ago was something pretty special in 2017 and now getting a chance to host in 2019 is as well seeing all the extra seats going up. This team is excited and looking forward to it. We weren't sure if we were going to be able to be back here but I know it's something that's pretty special to our seniors like Kylan (Becker) to be able to play in front of our fans and be in our stadium. We're looking forward to it."
ON THE VALUE OF THE VETERANS HAVING EXPERIENCED A REGIONAL IN OXFORD
"You can't take anything away from the importance of postseason experience. We've got three players that were a part of that. So, being able to have those individuals between Kylan, Kaylee (Horton) and Brittany Finney, those three were here in 2017 and able to experience that. Those three will all be on the field at some point. It's about using their leadership to really let the others know what it's going to be like. I know that's a conversation that they've already had with their teammates... We've played in front of some big crowds this season so its not something they haven't experience before."
ON IF THE PROGRAM IS WHERE HE EXPECTED IT TO BE FIVE YEARS IN
"In 2017, I didn't expect that to happen as fast. Where we're at now, the expectations are there but they really started in 2016. We did make a regional tournament, we were able to get a win in the conference tournament. Of course, going to Oklahoma and playing in that regional final there was really good for this program because they got to experience something that they never experienced before. I think that was part of the process of taking the next step. Where we're at now, we've got a full recruiting cycle in here, Kylan and Brittany have done a great job of being leaders. It's been a huge thing for us. Recruiting has been taken to another level. We've got great recruiting classes coming in. The text messages, emails, Facebook and Instagram messages after we were announced as the 11 seed were off the charts. Before I was able to look at my phone I think I had 42 text messages and like 25 or 30 Facebook messages and a lot of them were from people in the softball world. So, you know you're making a difference and people are excited about it. People want to come here and that's something that we've never had before."
SENIOR OUTFIELDER KYLAN BECKER
ON THE TEAM'S MINDSET HEADING INTO REGIONALS
"I think we're hard on ourselves so we're not down but disappointed with the way we finished. That's why we were unsure if we'd get to host or not. Once I realized we were the 11 seed I kind of reflected back on the entire season. This is the best season that we've ever had with Ole Miss softball so I don't think that one week at Georgia and then the one loss against Kentucky defines our season or means we're on a bad streak."
ON THE CONVERSATIONS SHE'S HAD WITH HER TEAMMATES ABOUT THE POSTSEASON
"I've been telling them since the middle of the season that we needed to get some big wins because I wanted to host a regional. People don't really understand how important it is for seeding to get those wins. I would just keep telling them that hosting is the best feeling ever and how exciting it is. I want to leave this field hosting. I don't think they understand what it means yet but I just told them to imagine the biggest crowd we've ever had times three. I think we're all just excited."
ON REFLECTING ON THE PROGRAM'S DEVELOPMENT DURING HER CAREER
"Every year I've been here we've taken the next step and haven't looked back. My first year we went to your first regional. The next year it was expected for us to make regionals, it wasn't something you hoped for. Now, we're expecting to host. We've transformed the program into it becoming a normal thing for us to be in a regional and now we're trying to host and be a high seed."
JUNIOR CATCHER AUTUMN GILLESPIE
ON WHAT HER TEAMMATES HAVE SHARED ABOUT THE 2017 REGIONAL
"It's going to be an experience like no other. We sold out our stadium this year, so we know what it's like to play in front of a big crowd, but it's always different in the postseason. It's a brand new year, everybody is at 0-0 right now. It's going to be about who wants it more. We have to come even better than we've been. Everyone is going to be a dogfight in the postseason."
ON IF HOSTING A REGIONAL WAS EXPECTED GOING INTO THE SEASON
"I think from the very beginning, yeah, we expected it. Going through the SEC season we thought we were right up there as one of the top teams in the country. I think we had a hiccup these last couple weeks, we didn't play our best ball, so it was like 'Are we going to host? Are we on the bubble? Where are we going?' We weren't 100 percent sure, but it wasn't really a surprise we were hosting. We're very grateful and very blessed to be hosting, but if we would have been on the road I think it still would have been the same amount of excitement. It's just really cool to still be in Oxford."
ON BEING ABLE TO FOCUS SOLELY ON SOFTBALL WITH THE SEMESTER OVER
"Postseason ball is the best time of the year. Softball 24/7, on TV, we're practicing, we're with the girls all the time, we're going to dinner together tonight. It's just good vibes, there's just no other way to say it. Just pure happiness."
SOPHOMORE FIRST BASEMAN ABBEY LATHAM
ON THE EXCITEMENT GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND
"Lately, we've been on the road so much, going from our Georgia series straight into Texas A&M (for the SEC Tournament). So, it's good to get a break and get off the road and finally be home and be on our home turf. I think all the girls are just super happy that we get a break and we get to just be in Oxford."
ON WHAT SHE REMEMBERS FROM LAST SEASON'S GAME AGAINST CHATTANOOGA
"I think this year we're not really focused on the past or the future. We're just very focused on the present and what we're doing at the very moment. We're not looking to supers, we're not looking to the World Series. We came to practice this week and knew the few things we need to work on. We're clicking as a team, and we're just making sure that we're very solid right now. We're going to show up at the ballpark and play Chattanooga and we're going to make sure we get that first. After that, we'll change our sights again, but right now it's literally just Chattanooga, and I think that's what has made us successful as a team this year so far."
ON TAKING FINALS DURING THE SEC TOURNAMENT
"That was so stressful. It's never fun taking exams, period. Especially when you have to do it on the road and you're playing in the SEC Tournament, which you obviously want to win. At that point you kind of become an athlete-student. I'm just super glad school is over, and I know all the girls are glad school is over. Now we're all locked in on softball, and that's the best time of the year when you don't have to worry about school and you can just play."
JUNIOR PITCHER MOLLY JACOBSEN
ON DRAWING ON HER POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE FROM THE JUNIOR COLLEGE LEVEL
"There was obviously some pressure pitching in nationals and the crowd was insane. You had all the Jones County (Junior College) people that were rooting for us to beat LSU-E. It was a huge crowd and I think just the adrenaline and how big the moment was was awesome to be a part of. I'm glad I have that under my belt I hope that that'll help me a little bit with the nerves. But, obviously, it'll be a lot different. I think we'll sell out, our fanbase is amazing. I'm just super excited to take the field with the team."
ON WANTING THE BALL IN GAME ONE
"I think me and Brittany (Finney) both feel the same way. But either way, I'm going to have Brittany's back. Whether she starts or anyone else on our staff does. We're a really close staff. We'll just stay close and support each other no matter what."
SENIOR PITCHER BRITTANY FINNEY
ON HOW SHE AND MOLLY JACOBSEN COMPLIMENT ONE ANOTHER
"I think we're a great compliment to each other. My game is a lot different than Molly's. I throw different stuff than she does and I throw a little bit harder than she does. Whether I start or she does, bringing the other into the game just changes it up completely and really keeps the hitters off balance."
ON WHAT KIND OF A GAME HAS TO BE BROUGHT TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN THE POSTSEASON
"We've just got to have our A game all the time. We're going to see some great competition coming into these last few weeks. We're down to the wire, down to the teams that have really shown out this season. It's going to take a lot of grit and mental toughness as well as physical toughness, especially for myself to handle it all. To handle the pressure they say that comes with the postseason and be able to hit and pitch and field correctly. Not necessarily develop a new game because what we've done so far has gotten us to where we are but just really refining and fine-tuning some things."
ON WHAT MAKES A CHAMPIONSHIP LEVEL TEAM
"Everything I see in this group is it. There's not a single thing I wish we had or could change. The chemistry we have, we were just talking in the locker room about how we could go out to dinner with any of the other players and it would be fine. None of the roommate pairings we've had on the road have been awkward or weird because we're such good friends with each other. And they have the work ethic. People put in so much time. I swear there are girls that don't ever leave the field because they work so hard on it. And then when we go out on the field it's just fun. We all just love playing beside each other, picking each other up and get things rolling together. Everying about this team has the potential to go far."