Before last season was canceled due to COVID-19, Illinois State softball head coach Melinda Fisher thought ISU could make a play as the top seed in the Missouri Valley Conference come tournament time.
Now a year later, Fisher saw the Redbirds accomplish what they set out to do over a year ago: be one of the top teams in the MVC. After finished with a 31-9 record ISU earned the No. 1 seed in the MVC Tournament.
"It felt like last season it felt like we were on the edge of making it a special conference season and we weren’t able to do it,” Fisher said. “We refocused on the goals we set a year ago. At least we were able to get one championship season.”
As the No. 1 seed, the Redbirds hold the advantage of having to win just two games to make it to the tournament. In the MVC Tournament, the No.1 and 2 seeds have two byes before playing their first game.
“I think that is huge from a pitching standpoint,” Fisher said. “If we had a realistic season, you are tired at the end. I think a lot of tiredness at the end not as much physical but mental. When you have to play one game and make it to the championship it is huge having a fresh pitching staff.”
Senior Andrea Corsey sees the advantages of not having the drain of two games on Thursday.
“It really is an advantage not having to play two games in one day,” Corsey said. “Usually in game one you put everything you have into making sure you get another game. Sometimes when the second game rolls around you don’t always play with that same energy.”
Coming into the season, the Redbirds lost four true seasons from the year before. Despite having the opportunity to return with the NCAA’s eligibility waiver, the seniors decided to move on.
Despite losing four seniors, the Redbirds brought back eight players with conference experience.
“The true seniors did not return. In missing those we lost four starters,” Fisher said. “We had to replace their bats and their defense. The now juniors and seniors had a better understanding of what the conference season would look like. We had eight players that had experienced a competitive season.”
While ISU lost some of their most experienced players, Fisher has seen the returning players put in impressive work.
“It shows a big determination and will and work ethic,” Fisher said. “So many players put in extra work, if it was on the defense or the offense, they were willing to work. It is not only what you do in practice but outside of practice.”
The Redbirds will play at 11 a.m. Friday. Their opponent will be announced after the winner of Southern Illinois vs. Drake
“I think the toughest challenge is whoever we play on Friday,” Fisher said. “Everyone’s record entering the tournament is 0-0. Everyone has a clean slate and could do anything.”