TYLER, Texas – Huntingdon softball coach Gynger Williams wanted to test her team this season.
With goals of a conference championship and a regional berth, Williams and the Lady Hawks hit the road early in the season. In the course of 13 straight road games to open the season, Huntingdon took on Division I and NAIA teams as well as the top-ranked team in Division III – Emory.
The immediate result was a 7-6 start to the season. But the early challenges helped build a team that doesn't back down.
"This team never quits," senior Angela Barkman said. "We've been in some tough games and we've been down in games, but we don't panic and we never give up. We keep each other up and play together. No matter what we do or what happens, we do it together."
The Lady Hawks (28-13) have won 21 of their last 28 games and begin play in the NCAA Division III Regionals on Friday in Tyler, Texas.
"We're just trying to stay focused on our goals," Williams said. "Our goals this season were to win conference and have a chance to compete nationally. The girls are pumped about this opportunity and we're going to keep working."
This is Huntingdon's first appearance in a Regional as a NCAA program. Senior Aleah Payne, the Great South Athletic Conference Player of the Year, said it's a great feeling to make it to the Regionals. But the Lady Hawks still have goals they want to reach.
"Regardless of what happens, five or 10 years from now we're all going to remember how good it feels to be the first Huntingdon team to make it this far," Payne said. "But we still have more we want to accomplish. Coach has asked us how we want to be remembered. We want to leave a legacy and raise the bar for future teams.
"We want to have fun, stay motivated and push each other and keep playing as long as we can."
Seventh-seeded Huntingdon opens the double-elimination tournament against fourth-ranked and second-seeded Pacific Lutheran (37-11) at 4 p.m. Central. The other first-round matchups are 17th-ranked and fifth-seeded Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (28-13) vs. fourth-seeded Louisiana College (28-13) and 13th-ranked and third-seeded Redlands (31-11) vs. sixth-seeded Birmingham-Southern (34-9). The winner of the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Louisiana College game will play seventh-ranked and top-seeded University of Texas-Tyler (36-7).
UT-Tyler won the Regional last season. Redlands and Louisiana College are both making their eighth straight regional appearance and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is making its fourth appearance.
"It's going to be a tough regional. All of these teams are tough," Williams said. "But we've played a tough schedule and we hope it has helped prepare us. The girls have played against some of the best teams in the country and we've seen what it takes and we know the level we have to perform at from here on. We don't want it to end yet, so we know we have to bring our best game."
The winner of the Tyler Regional advances to the national tournament in Salem, Va., on May 18-22.
Quick Links for more information on the Tyler Regional
Regional website -- http://www.uttylerpatriots.com/ncaa/
Live stats and live video -- http://www.uttylerpatriots.com/ncaa/broadcasts/
Twitter feed -- http://twitter.com/tylerregional