Been There, Done That: Seniors' Insight On Their Fourth NCAA Tournament

May 14, 2008

Stanford travels more than 3,000 miles this week to compete in its 11th consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Cardinal is bolstered by its wealth of postseason experience, with 11 players having appeared in an NCAA Tournament game, including nine of its ten starters.

The team's five seniors - Tricia Aggabao, Anna Beardman, Michelle Smith, Becky McCullough and Erin Howe - form the backbone of that experience, and will begin their fourth and final postseason run on Friday.

The fivesome's journey began on Feb. 4, 2005, when all five players were introduced in the starting lineup in their first game at Smith Family Stadium. Since then, they have scored 327 runs, hit 56 homers, recorded 590 hits, won 166 games, claimed the school's first Pac-10 title, captured two Regional Championships and been instrumental in maintaining the program's place among the powerhouses of collegiate softball. Now, the five players will look to cap their careers with their first trip to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.

Here's what the Cardinal seniors had to say before their final trip to the NCAA Tournament:

What has been your favorite memory from the NCAA Tournaments you've played in so far?

Michelle: 'So far, my favorite memory would have to be beating Fresno State twice on Sunday to advance to Super Regionals in '06. Hopefully this year can provide another great memory.'

Erin: 'One of my favorite memories of previous NCAA Tournaments was when we came back in the 2006 Regionals to beat Fresno twice on their field in order to advance to Super Regionals. We woke up that Sunday knowing we could do it and just got the job done. It was a great day!

Becky: 'My favorite was winning regionals my freshman year because everything was so new and exciting. Just being in the playoffs was a thrilling experience, and coming out on top made it that much better! I think that the most exciting game though was beating Fresno in regionals last year.'

What are your thoughts on Stanford's draw this year?

Michelle: 'We're definitely in a position to make it to the World Series, as long as we go out and play OUR game. When it comes to winning a national championship, at some point you're going to have to play and beat some very good teams. And, since our ultimate goal is to win that championship, it doesn't really matter if we face those good teams in the first round or the championship game. As far as traveling goes, I'm actually really excited we're heading back east. I love playing at new ballparks, and it's a good excuse to only worry about softball (no class..haha).

Becky: 'I hear Boston clam chowder is awesome!'

How is the atmosphere of the NCAA Tournament different from other games?

Michelle: 'The NCAA tournament is so exciting. You get a chance to play teams you might not otherwise have played. And (at least in our case right now), you get to visit a place you wouldn't otherwise go.'

Becky: 'Playoffs are always more exciting - it's do or die. There's no second chance. It's also fun to play new teams and it's your opportunity to let all of the effort you've put in all year pay off. You can feel the excitement in the air!'

How will having the experience of playing in the tournament three times before prepare you for this year?

Becky: 'Having been through this three times, you just know what to expect. You can relax because you've been there and know what it takes to win a regional and have the confidence that this team can do it!'

How does playing in the Pac-10 prepare you for the postseason?

Michelle: 'The Pac-10 definitely prepares you for postseason because you're playing some of the top teams in the country week in and week out. And, since the only way to be the best is to play against the best, we're more than prepared to be the best team in country.'

Tricia: 'The Pac-10 is known to be a tough conference. You know that every game is going to be a challenge and none of the teams are going to lay down for you. Playing in the Pac-10 forces you to compete at your best and it has prepared me for the physical and mental challenge that is the NCAAs.'

Anna: 'Playing in the Pac-10 is the best preparation you can have for a challenge like the tournament. When every team you play is a threat and can bring their `A' game with consistency, you learn really quick as a team to also come prepared and ready to go every game.'

Erin: 'After facing the great teams of the Pac-10 for the past few weeks, we feel very well-prepared to play anyone in the country. The Pac-10 challenges you every weekend, which is exactly what happens when you enter postseason.'

Becky: 'Playing in the Pac-10, you are facing the best of the best every game, so going into playoffs you know you won't be seeing anything you haven't before and we can beat whomever we are faced with.'

What advice would you give some of your younger teammates who haven't been in a tournament environment before?

Michelle: 'The tournament is just another set of softball games. You can't approach the game any differently than the rest of the season (especially since we should have been approaching every game with the same intensity that you'd expect from a tournament game).'

Tricia: 'Postseason is one of the most exciting times of the year. We have worked so hard to prepare for these upcoming games and although we need to go into the tournament with a sort of 'do-or-die' mentality, we also need to be relaxed and not get caught up in any distractions that the tournament can bring along. We will play our best when we are focused and having fun playing the game that we love.'

Anna: 'I want the girls to enjoy it and remember to stick with the basics, the fundamentals. All of the preparation that you have done throughout the year has led you to this point; now just let that hard work guide your mental and physical approach.'

Erin: 'Leave it all on the field. You don't want to feel like you could have given more when the last game ends.'

Becky: 'Relax, have fun, and don't put pressure on yourself. Playoffs are just one great opportunity to do something great!'

Why do you think this year's team has a shot to make it back to the World Series?

Michelle: 'This year's team is definitely ready to make a run for the World Series. We have such a great mix of experience and youth. Our team chemistry is great (which makes traveling a lot more fun). We have pitching, defense, and offense. It's been a long season, so as long as we can just maintain our focus for a few more weeks, we'll go out this year with a bang.'

Becky: 'I think this team has as awesome shot of winning it all. We have one of the best pitchers in the country who will keep us in every game, solid defense, great hitters throughout the lineup, and the best team chemistry I've experienced in my four years.'

What does the team need to focus on in order to be successful over the next couple of weeks?

Anna: 'Stick together and always crush!!!'

Being your last time in the tournament, what are you going to focus on this time through?

Michelle: 'I'm just going to focus on having fun. This will probably be the last time I play competitive softball, so I'd like to end my career the same way I started all those years ago - just having fun playing the game I love with my friends.'

Anna: 'I want to leave feeling that we gave it all that we had ... and most importantly that we fought. This year, we have such great chemistry and great girls that I just want to do my best for them and enjoy the remaining time I have with them.'

Erin: 'I am trying to focus on really enjoying every moment left with this incredible team. I want to play as many games as possible and end the season with a win!!'

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