URBANA (WCIA) — As name after name ran across the screen on the NCAA Tournament selection show, Illinois softball coach Tyra Perry wasn’t feeling nervous about her team’s chances of being selected.
“We still were confident we were going to be in,” Perry said on Tuesday, the first time visiting with media since the selection show. “Especially seeing Minnesota go off the board early and Wisconsin. That being said the NCAA has pulled some trickery before.”
No tricks this time for the committee though, with the Illini finally hearing their name called to the Columbia, Missouri Regional hosted by No. 15 seed Mizzou, where they’ll play Arizona on Friday at 3:30 p.m. (ESPN+) in the opening round. Coming off a disappointing one and done loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament and three straight losses overall, tying a season high, Perry and the Illini (34-20) are choosing to focus on the positives of this season.
“We’ve played well enough to win 34 of them and almost win quite a few others,” Perry said. “There’s up and downs in the season and we’ve been mostly up. We’re just focusing on the up.”
“It’s really exciting to have a team that’s this good,” Illinois senior pitcher Sydney Sickels said. “This team is so close and we work so well together. I think this team is going to go really far if we just stick together.”
After two years of postseason cancellations, with the NCAA tournament called off in 2020 and the Big Ten tournament canceled last year due to COVID-19, tournament experience is limited for the Illini. After two seasons of postseason cancellations, tournament experience is limited on the squad. There are only a handful of players who were on the team back in 2019, the last time Illinois made the NCAA’s, who’re doing their best to prep many for their first taste of regional play.
“Avery Steiner and Sydney Sickels, those guys who have experiences postseason play the last time when we were at Kentucky,” said Perry. “Anything they say is going to have a lot more weight than what we can say because they were actually in their shoes.”
“We’re just looking at this as a new start,” added Sickels. “Whatever’s happened in the past doesn’t really matter right now. It’s about what’s ahead of us.”
And what’s ahead is a chance for Illinois to advance out of the NCAA Regional for the first time in program history. Missouri State is the fourth team in the Columbia Regional, joining host Missouri, Arizona and Illinois.