Well… Here we are again. Pre-season. This time of year means long days, sore bodies and a whole lot of sweat. It will be important to push through the fatigue and stress that preseason inevitably brings to test our limits and help us to be stronger athletes mentally and physically. We have two weeks to prepare for our season. For me, they are the two weeks before my last season as a UConn Husky begins. Two weeks until I play in my last ‘first game of the season’. Two weeks until we leave for my last team trips to Florida. Two and half weeks until we, as a team, begin our journey to the Big East Tournament.
According to the Big East preseason polls however, we won’t ever make it there. We are predicted to finish ninth overall in the Big East this year meaning we wouldn’t qualify for the Big East Championship in Tampa. These polls are calculated from coaches votes based on how our season went last year, the seniors that graduated and who is returning. These votes do not take into consideration the extremely talented freshmen class that arrived on UConn’s campus in August. These votes do not take into consideration the countless hours our team has spent working together to become a cohesive unit. They do not consider our senior class that wants to make the absolute most of our last season together. And they do not take into consideration the talent that has grown over the last year, the drive within this team to accomplish our goals or the determination we have to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
What the Big East can’t see in any box score or on any stat sheet is what will set us apart from our competition this year. We, as a team, know that we are talented, determined and invested in making this season successful. We have set our goals high and will do whatever is necessary to accomplish those goals. Every day we strive to be better, faster and stronger than the day before. We will leave it all on the field and prove that we are a force to be reckoned with in this conference.
In my first few months at UConn, I only ran into Coach Looney a few times. He worked closely with the pitchers and catchers but wasn’t around every day at practice (as a 1.5 hour commute on the Mass Pike stood in his way.) However, once preseason and season started, he became another voice of knowledge and experience day in and day out.
You could always count on coach Looney for a story, a joke or simply a smile. With his immense understanding of the game, he could help no matter what kind of situation you found yourself in. Whether it was pitch count, base running, game strategy or random rules and regulations; Looney knew it all. Coach Looney was a person that always stressed the importance of a team’s communication and togetherness. He reiterated time and time again that an individual’s decisions and actions on the field can affect the entire course of a game.
In my first tournament as a Husky, I was playing third base in a close game against Minnesota at Florida Gulf Coast. In an early inning, I let a ball drop in foul territory that I should have caught. In my mind, it was just one more strike for the batter. It turns out that this would not be the case. That same batter, later in the at-bat, got a base hit and ended up scoring what would turn out to be the go ahead run. Upon entering the dugout after the inning, I got an earful from Coach Looney. To this day, I remember that play and how much Coach Looney instilled in me that night that every single decision I make in a game will affect my teammates and our success somehow, in either a negative or positive manner. He instilled in me the notion that everything we do as players on this team reverberates throughout the team and shapes the outcome of an inning, a game or a season.
Off the field Coach Looney just enjoyed the ride. Traveling the country with 20 plus college girls and an all female coaching staff for three straight months every year would drive most men insane. But Mr. Looney always had a good time and just embraced the experience of being able to watch us develop as a team from game to game. He was our comic relief, Washington D.C. tour guide, source of obscure trivia and the first one to remind us that we were all just a bunch of SCRUBS!
After decades on the field Looney never lost that passion and love of the game. He passed a little bit of that desire and drive on to all of us, and for that we are grateful. I feel privileged not only that I got to play for him but that I got to know him as a person. He truly was an amazing man who will be missed very much by everyone involved in the UConn softball program. As we dedicate our upcoming season to Coach Looney we will bring with us the memories, love, laughs and warm smiles he helped us to create along the way.