bleedCrimson.net: Congratulations, you're now the WAC regular season champion as well as the WAC tournament champion.
Kathy Rodolph: Thank you very much. I feel like the girls have absolutely earned it by hard work and determination and perseverance. It's nice to see that all of those things paid off.
bc.net: Maybe one of the most surprising statistics coming out of the tournament was that your pitchers threw 16 consecutive scoreless innings to close the tournament.
KR: My pitchers have grown tremendously this year and have really bought in to growing with strategy and really being able to throw back to back pitches to set up new pitches and I just feel like they're able to read hitters better and attack in the zone and vary the speed. I'm extremely proud of how much they've grown.
bc.net: A couple of other amazing statistics from the pitching staff, you only give up one earned run the entire tournament and you only walk two batters the entire tournament.
KR: When we cut down the walks, I don't know what comes first, I don't know if the clean defense gives us the confidence to cut down the walks or if we hit our spots then we play clean defense behind them. I challenged both areas. I challenged us defensively to really step it up and show our pitchers that we could put it in play and that we could count on them to make the plays defensively and I also asked the pitchers to give them the chance to field and stop walking so I was extremely pleased with how they hit their spots.
bc.net: The final two games of the tournament your defense didn't commit any errors. This was after you had a bit of a rough stretch in the final three games of the season against Boise State and then the first couple innings on the first tournament game against Hawai'i.
KR: Basically what I had told the team was that at this point in the season you're looking for areas that you can still improve upon. I feel like our offense is basically doing what I think it's capable of doing and I don't think we can improve a lot there but I really felt like defensively we needed to front the ball, we needed to see the ball off the bats better on the angles and really defend. That was an area that we could really improve on and I challenged the kids and I felt like they stepped up.
bc.net: How fitting was it that the final three outs are essentially recorded by Ashley Maroda at third, she's been an absolute rock for you there all four years.
KR: It's funny because the kids have kind of nicknamed Ashley "Gumby". I feel like wherever it is, thank God she's blessed with a 5'10" body and long arms. She just ranges for us over there. She's cutting off balls in the 5-6 hole, she's getting line drive hard shots at her, she's steady over there. If she ever misses a ball we're just shocked.
bc.net: What were your emotions and your team's emotions were as the last out was recorded?
KR: We were excited and really wanted to celebrate but we weren't at home and were trying to figure out how much was just right. I think they were just excited because our first goal was to try to win the regular season, then the second goal was to try to win the WAC tournament and then the third goal was to try to make it to postseason play. So I feel like we've been able to really stay focused on what we wanted to do. We didn't luck into it, the kids are playing very well and deserve it.
bc.net: We've talked about the fact that you won the regular season by two games, then you win the tournament in the minimum three games and you had to face the number four team in Hawai'i which had swept you during the regular season, then the number two team in the league in Boise State and then in the championship game you had to face the three seed in Fresno State who was playing on their home field.
KR: We've had some kids really step up huge at the end of ballgames for us that just find a way to get it done but the walk-off home run by Hoku, in my mind absolutely set the tone for the tournament because it put us into the winner's bracket and gave us an opportunity to play fresh and not get beat up on the winner's bracket side. I feel like that one play, the 10-pitch at-bat that Tiare drew the walk and then Hoku hitting the walk-off just really set the tone for the whole tournament.
bc.net: You talked in the postgame radio interview about the family atmosphere and family vibe that your team has this year and a lot has been talked about your senior class but this entire season you've gotten contributions from everybody on the team and I thought that there was no better indication of that than to have four kids on the All-Tournament team and they were a senior in Hoku, a junior in Tiare, a sophomore in Alex Newman and a freshman in Valerie Swedberg.
KR: Absolutely. I feel like because the seniors have done a much better job in stepping up and showing courage and showing the young ones the way but at the same time they absolutely expect the young ones to contribute. You don't want to be the one coming back to the dugout without a hit because there's a high level of expectation. But there's also a sense of support and that you're never doing it by yourself and I think that's more the family concept.
A lot of times you hope and pray that you get the team chemistry to do that but we actually have kids that are hitting over .300 that are sitting on the bench and that's something that is extremely hard to not be selfish and really put the team first. If you really had to sum it up about what's different about this team, there's a lot of people making a lot of sacrifices for the betterment of the team.
bc.net: Valerie Swedberg is named the Freshman of the Year and then is voted the Tournament MVP.
KR: Val has really done a fantastic job for us and for the majority of the year she hasn't played like a freshman. Val is extremely athletic. She can catch, she can play infield, she can play outfield and I feel like she's always a threat at the plate. Just when you think "Oh, she only pulls the ball, she can't go with it," or "She can't set for the changeup," she just continues to get better every week and I'm just extremely glad that we have her.
bc.net: Over the past few seasons you've been able to find impact freshman, three years ago it was Ashley Maroda who at the time set the single season home run record, then two seasons ago it was Tiare Jennings who had monster freshman year, Teresa Conrad comes in last season and even though she didn't have the big hitting numbers, she had a huge impact defensively playing shortstop and now this season Valerie Swedberg comes in and is WAC Freshman of the Year as well as WAC Tournament MVP.
KR: I think part of it probably goes back to my background. I was the only eighth grader to make varsity at Cloudcroft High School in basketball and by the time I was a freshman I had to shoot free throws in a double overtime to win the state championship so to me, I've never treated our kids differently. I expect more from the freshmen because to those that can, much is expected but I also don't treat the freshmen like freshmen. It's like putting Celisha Walker in to start against the NPF All-Stars this past fall. I like to see what my kids are going to do in a hurry and I don't pamper and baby them. I have high expectations because I picked them and recruited them and brought them here. I let them know what I see in them but I also hold them accountable for what they can be.
bc.net: The past couple of weeks we'd talked about how there still wasn't quite that feeling that your team has peaked yet. Do you get the feeling now with the way that your team pitched, the way that the defense performed in those final two games and of course with the offense continuing stay hot that your team is peaking at it's at the right time?
KR: I would say that throughout the conference tournament that we continued to get better the whole weekend and were absolutely dominating and if something did happen we had a very short memory and just focused on attacking the next pitch or the next situation. So, I'm excited for the opportunity to go into Arizona in to regionals and see what we can do because we are playing very well, very confidently and have tons of people contributing to this success. We're definitely not riding one or two kids.
bc.net: Do you get the feeling from your team that they're not just happy to be in the tournament for the first time but that they feel like they can go into the NCAA tournament and do some damage?
KR: I know this and I can say this extremely confidently, if somebody beats us, they're going to have to beat us because we're not going to be intimidated and we're not going to go down without a fight. We're going to Arizona to play and to be us and to see what we do against the next level of talent.
bc.net: Every year year your kids have been accustomed to playing the big name teams whether it's on the road at the ASU tournament or the UNLV tournament or whether it's at home with teams like Arizona and Oklahoma coming in this season. Do you feel like that having been on that stage will help them even though it's your first time in the NCAA tournament as opposed to a team that for instance may have won their conference tournament and is making their first trip but didn't play that type of non-conference schedule?
KR: Absolutely because when you get an opportunity to play those teams early you get a very good look in the mirror of where you are and where you need to be and come postseason you already know what the challenge is going to be. We've continued to work hard so that when we got into conference we were going to do okay against the top teams and be able to go to the [conference] tournament and believe that we have the ability to go in and win it. We weren't just glad to get into the tournament. Last year we had dug ourselves such a deep hole we were just glad to get into our tournament.
We've already played Arizona, we understand that they have All-Americans, that they are very talented and if we make mistakes they are going to capitalize on it. You can either look at it like that's pressure or you can welcome the opportunity to compete with the best and I sincerely hope we welcome the opportunity to compete and show who we are as well.
bc.net: We've talked a little bit about your team playing at Hawai'i this season and the crowds there and then of course you played in the championship game against Fresno State on their home field with all of their fans cheering against you. How much did those two experiences prepare you for going to Arizona in an NCAA Tournament environment where you may face Arizona and they have arguably the best home field advantage in college softball?
KR: I would have to definitely say that Hawai'i prepared us for Fresno State at the conference tournament which also I think definitely prepares us for what we're going to face at the University of Arizona. I feel like there is tradition when you walk into the University of Arizona stadium and you know what all of the kids have been able to do that have come there to play but I also feel like by us going home and away with them every other year we're not near as intimidated to play there as we were the very first time we went in there. Now we're familiar with how the field is going to play and what it looks like and the huge scoreboard and everything else and really welcome the challenge.
bc.net: Your first matchup you get Texas Tech out of the Big XII.
KR: What I've seen, I've seen a little bit and gathered scouting reports on Texas Tech, I think they're athletic, I think they're going to be fast, I think they're going to have good size kids and I feel like probably the determining factor in how the game is going to go is how our offense is going to match up with their pitching.
bc.net: What do you know about Harvard?
KR: I'm still gathering information on Harvard. We played Harvard a couple of years ago at the UNLV tournament. It was the same coaching staff then. They're very fundamentally sound. They're going to get runners on, they're going to bunt them over then work to score them. Again, I would match up our hitting against them. We expect them [Harvard] to be strong. Anybody in postseason is going to be strong but I really feel like Arizona is going to be the team to beat.
bc.net: What will your schedule with the team be for the next couple of days and what's been the mood around the team the past couple of days, I'm sure they're very excited but also very focused and businesslike.
KR: We had a good, rather long practice, about an hour longer than I was expecting today. Coming back from the conference tournament you feel like you get to play everyday but you haven't practiced so we really needed to clean up a few things and go over scouting reports on Texas Tech and talk about how we think we'll be pitched and try to work on those areas. Truthfully, also work to get back into shape. When you're not practicing and you're out in California and you come back to 4500 foot altitude, we're trying to get our legs back under us. We'll practice tomorrow [Tuesday] afternoon and then on Wednesday I decided that we're going to head out to Tucson and get over and do some running to try to get our legs back and get the blood flowing but we won't practice. Then on Thursday we have been given an 11:30 practice time so we get 30 minutes in the batting cages and about an hour on the field and then of course play on Friday at four.