When Ally Choate’s teachers have asked the students in her classes at Seattle University to all stand up and give her a round of applause, the sophomore knew word had spread about the softball team’s success: The Redhawks are going to the NCAA Tournament.
Choate and the Seattle U softball team recently won their first WAC tournament title and will participate in the program’s first NCAA Tournament, beginning Friday at the University of Washington.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Choate, a Yelm High School graduate. “I knew right after our first game of the spring that we had something special. We’re great athletes and softball players, but the biggest thing is we just love each other so much. We’d do anything for each other.”
Seattle U won the WAC Tournament title on May 11, beating New Mexico State, 3-2, at Grand Canyon in Phoenix. SU has won 15 of its last 16 games, and Choate has been one of the biggest reasons why the Redhawks are where they are. She led the WAC in batting (.404), on-base percentage (.462) and was tied for the league lead in hits (72). Choate was named to the All-WAC first team.
“I just have a lot more confidence this year,” Choate said. “Not only in myself, but in my team as a whole. I know if I don’t perform on a certain day, everybody around me will pick me up. I’ve played a lot less scared this year and have just gone for it. It helps having a year under your belt, too.”
Choate said the biggest adjustment to college softball was simply the time commitment.
“The amount of games we play is insane,” Choate said. “I think what I wasn’t prepared for was just how long the season is, how much strain it puts on your body. That’s the main adjustment.”
Choate said the culture put in place by fourth-year head coach Geoff Hirai has led to a winning mentality.
“He’s always held high expectations for us,” she said. “He holds us to a very high standard. In the years past, not everyone has bought into that coaching style. I really feel like everyone is all in about what this culture is about.”
That culture, above all else, is one of hard work and sacrifice.
“We have that attitude that we’re going to work harder than anybody else — that’s the biggest thing,” Choate said. “We condition more than I ever have before in my entire life. There’s an expectation to hit extra, excel in the classroom and just to be kind. We’re growing as athletes and students, but also growing as leaders.”
Choate, who is playing right field and hitting in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, said the program is proud of the recognition it has been getting.
“We just want it so bad,” she said. “We treat the program like we’re a major Division I school. We want people to know what we’re capable of. We feel like we deserve that respect.”
It’s been a whirlwind of emotions for the sophomore since finding out Seattle U’s matchup in the NCAA tournament. The Redhawks earned the third seed in the region and will face Mississippi State in the first round, 4:30 p.m. Top-seeded UW hosts No. 4 Fordham in the other first-round matchup.
“In the beginning of the week, especially after watching the selection show, I was so anxious — I was like shaking,” Choate said with a laugh. “I couldn’t even do my homework. I tried just watching TV with my roommate. I had to get up and do some exercises because I was so overwhelmed.”
She’s feeling better now, and is exciting to being playing just down the road at UW, so some of her Yelm friends and family can come up to watch the game.
“I think a lot of Yelmites are going to end up coming,” she said. “I just keep getting texts from everybody, that they’re so happy and excited for all of us.”
Choate said the team is just trying to treat it like any other game.
“I think if we make this a bigger deal than it really is, then we’ll become a little overwhelmed and not play to our fullest potential,” Choate said. “ If we just keep playing SU softball, supporting each other, I think we have a good chance of winning this thing.”