Arkansas has never played in the Women’s College World Series, but head coach Courtney Deifel has. Formerly known as Courtney Scott, she was an All-American catcher on Cal’s 2002 national title team.
Their opponent in the championship game? The same program, and coach, that Arkansas is welcoming to Bogle Park for the 2021 Fayetteville Super Regional: Mike Candrea’s Arizona Wildcats.
Deifel reminisced at a press conference Thursday.
“I just remember walking into the stadium and it was Jennie Finch’s senior year and we had done pretty well against them in the Pac-10 matchup. I think we won two of three,” she said. “So we had a good amount of confidence. But when we walked into the stadium the entire stadium minus our parents section was in Arizona gear. Like, the entire stadium. There were shirts, poster boards everywhere with signs for Arizona and Jennie, who obviously was an incredible pitcher, incredible competitor. And I remember us as a team just focusing on us and saying there is not anybody in this stadium that thinks we’re gonna win except us in this circle and that’s all that matters. We weren’t big-eyed over the stage or who we were playing.”
The Golden Bears shocked Finch and the Wildcats 6-0 for their first, and only, national championship. Deifel says her Arkansas team reminds her of that squad.
“Our team has a little bit of that underdog mentality,” she said. “I know we’re the higher seed but we feel like we’re the underdog, we feel like we’ve been overlooked a lot of the year. We have that feisty fight-for-each-other mentality that has really turned us into one of the toughest teams in the country.”
Arkansas’ head coach since 2016, Deifel has instilled a sense of belief in a Razorback program that, for most of its existence, finished near the bottom of the SEC. It won the conference for the first time this season and now sits two wins away from its first-ever WCWS.
Deifel has done that, in part, by studying other successful coaches. How they carry themselves, how they respond to adversity, and how they compete, among other things.
“As a coach you’re constantly learning and it’s not like any ideas you have are your own,” she said. “You’re borrowing and stealing them from everybody that you have a ton of respect for.”
Candrea, an eight-time national champion, being one of them.
“He’s a legend in our sport, he’s one of the best to have ever done it,” Deifel said.
When asked what it will be like to coach against Candrea, Deifel chuckled: “I don’t have anything profound to say, I just think it’s really cool.”
“I had a ton of respect for him as a player as I do now as a coach, even more so probably as a coach because I see what you have to do on a daily basis,” she added. “And just what he’s been able to do at a high level for so long, it’s just incredible.”
The respect is mutual. Candrea, who actually coached Deifel’s sister Amanda Scott on the U.S. Olympic team, said the way Deifel coaches reminds him of the way she played—competitive and always prepared.
“I’m just really happy for her that she’s having the success that she’s having but she’s earned that,” he said. “She’s got a very good softball knowledge, good teacher, understands how to handle people, and I think that’s the one aspect that occurs when you start being in the game a little bit longer. 90 percent of the job here is managing people. You can have the greatest knowledge in the world but if you can’t get that knowledge across to the people that are willing to listen, then it falls on deaf ears. And Courtney, I’ve been involved with her with some clinics and I’m very impressed. She’s a quality coach and it did not surprise me that she’s having success that she’s had here.”