TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Jessica Allister has had it up to here.
With the NCAA softball committee, which snubbed the Gophers by ignoring their Big Ten championship and their glossy 54-3 record and deeming them unworthy of a top-16 seed and the right to host a regional.
And with the questions about it, which started Sunday night when the 64-team NCAA Tournament field was announced – and which haven’t stopped yet.
“I have a lot of thoughts,” Allister, the Minnesota coach, said Thursday on the eve of the start of the Tuscaloosa Regional. “But my thoughts today are that we’re coming into postseason [as] the No. 1/3 team in the two major polls, and I refuse to be anything but excited.”
Minnesota plays Louisiana Tech on Friday in a 1:30 p.m. opening-round game that will be televised on ESPNU.
The Gophers arrived in Alabama on Tuesday night and practiced the next day in Birmingham, an hour away from the University of Alabama campus where the regional will be held. On Thursday, the Gophers practiced on the Rhoads Stadium field where they will try to prove the committee wrong.
Minnesota players have had a little time to ponder their plight.
“Right away, when it happened, we were shocked,” said Sam Macken, the Gophers' left fielder and leadoff batter from Rochester. “We were kind of thinking more, but we just moved on from that.”
Well, not completely. The Gophers aren’t just wearing it on their sleeves – they actually have it on their T-shirts. Allister and two players arrived at Thursday’s news conference wearing maroon shirts with the image of a gopher and the motto “Win Anyway” emblazoned in gold. Unhappy alums provided the shirts.
The sting of the snub has turned into motivation.
“No one believes in us besides us,” Macken said, “and that’s what we’ve got to focus on.”
Actually, Minnesota softball has gained a lot of support. Allister said that “everyone, everyone” in the coaching community has reached out to her. Players have seen it on social media and heard from new fans who will be rooting for them.
“People that haven’t even watched a lot of softball before have been reaching out to us, so that’s cool to see that we have impacted people from beyond the softball community,” said junior first baseman Sydney Dwyer, a .391 hitter from Bettendorf, Iowa.
Minnesota’s seeding has a had a ripple effect. Alabama, the No. 16 overall seed and the top seed in the regional, feels like it has an unusually tough draw with a No. 1-ranked team to get past. Louisiana Tech and Albany – Alabama’s first-round opponent – have seen their chances go from difficult to nearly impossible.
They also feel forgotten.
“For a lot of programs, seeing their name on the television and hearing their name mentioned (when the bracket is revealed) goes a long way, and unfortunately we were denied a little bit of that because of all the controversy and what went on with the other teams,” Louisiana Tech coach Mark Montgomery said. “So it was a little disappointing when you’re not even mentioned in the statement.
“When you’re there and showing up on the screen and nobody even talks about you being in a region, it’s a little disheartening.”
Allister is ready to focus on softball instead of seedings. She finally got emotional, her voice wavering as she got fed up with the continued questions about the topic.
“At some point, we’ve got to move on,” she said. “So I can sit here and get mad about this and we can answer all these questions, which we’ve been doing all week, but I’d rather talk about the year that we’ve had.”
That doesn’t mean she’s going to back down. The committee released a statement earlier in the week that cited the Gophers’ schedule as the reason for them being unseeded. She mentioned road trips to play Texas, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, LSU, Fresno State, Washington, Cal and Oregon State, and said she has no plans to change her approach.
“You’re telling me at the beginning of the year,” she said, “you look at that schedule and you don’t think that’s strong?”
Follow Tommy Deas on Twitter this weekend as he covers Gophers softball for the Star Tribune: @tommydeas.