Softball ready for stiff competition at Aggie Classic

By Rich Mayor

The Illini are well aware that “everything’s bigger in Texas” – proof lies on the field of the Aggie Classic.

This weekend, Illinois (12-8) will travel to College Station, Texas to do battle in one of their most loaded tournaments yet. The stacked deck includes matchups against No. 3 Texas A&M; (22-3), No. 18 Louisiana-Lafayette (12-3) and the BYU Cougars (11-7). Although the Cougars are not currently ranked, they went 46-20 last year and maintain a high quality team each year.

Competing in the tournament will be no easy task. After posting a 4-1 record in the less-talented Miken Classic last weekend, including a disappointing loss in the championship against Florida Atlantic, the Illini are eager to get back between the chalk and redeem themselves.

“We didn’t end the weekend as well as we wanted to, but we learned a lot, and a 4-1 record is up there as far as what we want to do,” junior catcher Lana Armstrong said. “We’re going to approach this weekend the same as we did last weekend and the weekend before that.”

But would the displeasure of last weekend’s loss seep into the team’s mindset at the upcoming tournament?

“I don’t think there will be any (disappointment) carried on at all,” Armstrong said. “If anything, it’ll fire us up so we can jump back out there and show everybody, including ourselves, what we have and how we should play.”

“I do want (the team) to take the loss personally,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “We need to come out and play consistent Friday-Saturday-Sunday, which we didn’t do last Sunday. We got beat, and that always has to motivate you to do better the next time out. Lucky for us we don’t have to wait a long time to do that.”

The Aggie Classic is the perfect opportunity for redemption. The Illini prepare to regain their stride while facing some of the toughest teams in the country in front of a usually rabid crowd at the Aggie Softball Complex.

“It’s a fun environment at Texas A&M;,” Sullivan said. “They get very good crowds every game, and they’re very loud. They’re great fans there so we see it as a challenge – and where there’s challenge, there’s opportunity.”

This opportunity includes two chances against both Louisiana-Lafayette and BYU, and one against the hometown and high-powered Texas A&M;, a juggernaut that has outscored its opponents 139-37 this year.

The Illini remain unfazed.

“Really, I believe what’s most important is that we focus on what we do,” Sullivan said. “Certainly it’s going to be a challenging weekend for us, but we also think we’re a challenge to face when we’re at our best.”

Look out Texas. As big as things may be in the Aggie Classic, the Illini are looking to do it bigger.