Missouri softball hosts Illinois-Chicago on Friday at 3:30 p.m. in its first game of the NCAA softball regional. The Tigers are the No. 8 seed in the national tournament, the No. 1 seed in the Columbia Regional and would host a super regional if they advance. The Columbia Regional also includes Northern Iowa and Iowa State, who play just before the Tigers take on the Flames at Mizzou Softball Stadium.
“They’re just really looking forward to getting going,” Missouri coach Larissa Anderson said of her team. “When you look at our opponents, yes we are the better team, but the better team doesn’t always win. So they know that they have to take care of details, and they’ve been very, very focused.”
Mizzou Softball Stadium will also be allowed to return to full capacity for the first time this season.
“I can’t wait to try to sell the stadium out,” Anderson said. “I think it’s just going to be such an unbelievable atmosphere. I mean, I was excited for the 50%, and I’m just hoping that we get close to 100%.”
A number of key players for the Tigers this season are yet to play in front of a full-capacity home crowd at home. Among those is redshirt junior outfielder Casidy Chaumont, who transferred to Missouri from Louisiana.
“I’m really excited,” Chaumont said. “I’m ready to see what the full stands look like, how the berm is going to be filled, what everyone’s energy is going to be, if I’m going to be heckled, if I’m going to be cheered for.”
Missouri comes into the game and the regional as the favorite. The Tigers finished the season 38-15 after making the semifinal of the SEC Tournament and finishing fourth in the conference during the regular season.
Freshman shortstop Jenna Laird said that being the favorite in the game doesn’t mean that the Tigers will have an easy matchup with UIC.
“We just have to know that even though we are the favorites for this game that anything can happen,” Laird said. “If we lose one game, then it’s going to set the tone for the rest of the weekend.”
UIC finished the season as Horizon League tournament champion, the school’s first conference title in four years. The conference title gave the Flames a 29-21 record, earning them a spot in the national tournament. They come to Columbia as the No. 4 seed in the region.
“We’re continuing to do what we’ve done up to this point,” UIC coach Lynn Curylo said. “We obviously started watching video of our opponent, and then it’s just a matter of just continuing to do what we’ve been doing.”
The Flames come into the tournament on the back of two-time Horizon League Player of the Year Kayla Wedl. The graduate-student infielder comes into the regional tournament with 14 home runs, 51 RBI and a batting average of .432. She was a member of the All-Great Lakes first team and the All-Horizon League first team in 2019.
Curylo highlighted UIC’s senior class as one that has worked to keep the Flames on the field throughout the season.
“(Wedl is) somebody we’re gonna lean on and she’s our igniter,” Curylo said. “Another thing that’s really important to me for everybody out there to know about our team is that our seniors have done such a tremendous job of making the sacrifices they needed to make in order for us to be able to stay on the field.”
Anderson said that Wedl is a player who could cause Missouri problems. If the Tigers are to avoid an upset, one of the priorities will be keeping her quiet.
“Every time I go into a game, I’m acknowledging, ‘What is the one player I don’t want to beat us?’ And (Wedl) would be that one player,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to give her anything good to hit … It’s really keeping her out of position to be able to win the game for them.”
The winner of the game between Missouri and UIC will face the winner of Northern Iowa and Iowa State on Saturday. The losers of both games will play against each other Saturday after the two winners play. The winner of the second game will then play the loser of the third.