OKLAHOMA CITY -- Earlier this month all the softball teams in the SEC came together to battle each other for a conference championship. Almost three weeks later, five of those teams have survived regionals and Super Regionals to land a spot in the Women's College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
While Auburn, Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Alabama are still bitter rivals as they look to claim the 2015 national championship crown, this years WCWS has a SEC against the world type feel.
"I think you have to get some breaks. And every game here will be a battle. We've lived that life for the past couple months in the SEC. Every time we take the field it's an absolute battle. So I think all of our teams will be well prepared. I know these coaches next to me, their teams will be well prepared. I think it's going to be a lot of fun. ”
With more than half the field all coming from the same conference it's easy to see why the prevailing mindset is that SEC is the dominant league at this point in time. It's a goal each program shares.
“I think a lot of the schools and administrators do not like status quo,” Tide coach Patrick Murphy said. “When they see somebody do well, they're going to go back and say, wait a minute, we've got to do that. And I think it's just evolved from there. You can see how many either coaching changes, facility changes, upgrades. It's just like any sport in the SEC now.
"You know if somebody wins in football, somebody else is going to try to win the next year. And I think it's evolved to the sport of softball. I think it's a very good thing. Because if you think you've reached that point, you're going to get run over the next year. And it's just like in the Big Ten and Pac-12. If somebody does really well everybody else is going to try to catch up. And I think that's happening in the SEC.”
The SEC has been the dominant conference in softball the entire year. It is also home to the defending champion Gators, who also hold the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Despite that, Gators coach Tim Walton knows just getting out of his side of the bracket that features three other conference teams is going to be a tough road. That includes getting past the Vols in the opening game Thursday.
“We actually enjoy competing against Tennessee,” Walton said. “It's one of the toughest games we play all year just because of the preparation that their staff puts in, our staff puts in, and our kids seem to be prepared and very excited to play each other. So expecting the same thing, another good matchup, whether it's a one-game with the World Series or one game with the SEC Tournament or three-game series at our places. ”
While much of the focus will be on the SEC, the other three contenders are not just going to lay down and get steamrolled by the super conference. UCLA, Michigan and Oregon all come into the tournament believing they have just as much claim to the title as anyone.
"I look at this as a great opportunity for us to be able to get back out there,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. “We are very familiar, we're very prepared, but we're in a new season. So everything -- fortunate Coach [John] Wooden has shared is very simple, yesterday is old as dirt and we have no control over tomorrow. So we're living right now, and we're going to go out there and have a great practice and get out there and play great softball tomorrow. ”