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NCAA Tournament: ‘Fun grit’ Weber State softball draws Texas in Seattle regional

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | May 15, 2022

BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Weber State softball players hug after winning the Big Sky tournament championship game Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Ogden. (BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner)

After the best regular season and tournament in Big Sky Conference history, Weber State softball learned its NCAA Tournament destination Sunday night during the selection show on ESPN2.

And for its 38-10 overall record with several wins over other teams in the tournament, and after romping through the Big Sky tournament, the team that head coach Mary Kay Amicone describes as having “fun grit” was rewarded with an unprecedented regional seed.

Weber State is the third seed in the Seattle regional and will face Texas (38-17) at 3:30 p.m. MT Friday. The Wildcats head to the University of Washington (35-15), the No. 13 national seed and regional host. The Huskies will open with regional fourth seed Lehigh (30-18-1).

WSU’s first game will air on the Longhorn Network and stream on the ESPN app. The regional round is a double-elimination schedule, so the Wildcats’ second game depends on Friday’s results.

The 16th and final national seed was expected to come down to Texas and Central Florida; it went to UCF, so Weber State perhaps draws the best regional second seed in the entire field.

Weber State’s team gathered in the auditorium team room at the football facility to watch the show and had a video feed sent back to ESPN for the broadcast. The Wildcats erupted when their name was called on the other side of Washington’s regional, then Texas came immediately after with what appeared to be a stunned non-reaction.

The Wildcats have wins over Texas A&M, San Diego State and Fordham, who all made the tournament field.

WSU head coach Mary Kay Amicone said Saturday that the ability to be rewarded in this way came down to her team realizing how good they were, and the university supporting the program’s ambitions.

“They turned a corner early on in the preseason and the thing I think I really admire the most is just the program, including the university’s support of a really tough preseason. It takes a lot of money,” Amicone explained. “When we go out there and play in the Judi Garman tournament, we know we’re going to play UCLA and Texas A&M, and that’s what we want.

“All of that stuff, including playing at UNLV, that turned the corner for them. They knew that they were good and had the makings of an incredible team. So all of that built their chemistry that they have, and their confidence.”

WSU also claimed one win out of three against Utah this season; neither Utah (27-27) or BYU (42-10) made the field as an at-large selection. BYU shared the West Coast Conference title with Loyola Marymount but LMU was given the automatic bid via tiebreaker.

Utah finished 46th in the RPI rankings, according to the latest available update on the NCAA’s website. Weber State was 50th and BYU 52nd.

Weber State’s goal from the start of this season has been to repeat its 2019 success. After winning the Big Sky regular-season and tournament titles in 2019, the Wildcats drew a regional hosted by UCLA in Los Angeles. After an admirable 6-0 loss to UCLA, the No. 2 team in the country, Weber State defeated Cal State Fullerton 7-3 for the first NCAA Tournament win in program and Big Sky history, then fell 7-0 to Missouri.

“It is nice having that experience,” senior outfielder Chloe Camarero said Saturday. “That first time I was super nervous when we were at UCLA. I felt like the whole time I was just blacked out, I didn’t know what was going on. Now being in that position it’s like, ‘OK, let’s do it again.’ The surrounding stuff doesn’t matter, let’s just go out and play some ball.”

WSU returns to Seattle after being sent there in 2016’s NCAA regional round. The Wildcats also played at Louisiana in 2015’s regional round.

“We like to say they have a lot of fun grit. They’re gritty, but they have fun. Everything we do from Sept. 1 to this moment has contributed to their life experience,” Amicone said. “The things we do with team-building, it’s fun to see them and their families buy in. All of those things helped us have that gritty mentality and contribute to that fun culture.”

NCAA Tournament results won’t ultimately take away from Weber’s historic season but could prove to boost the team’s claim to all-time status across all sports on campus.

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