North Carolina was not the place the BYU softball team thought it would hear when the Cougars found out where they'd be playing in the NCAA softball regionals.
But that's exactly where they're headed to play No. 13 North Carolina at 3:30 p.m. today in the first round at Chapel Hill, N.C.
Also in their double-elimination regional are No. 25 Georgia and Campbell.
While the Cougars are 4-7 against top-25 opponents this year, they have never played any of these three teams and are a little shocked to be traveling so far away because the tournament is generally placed regionally.
On the other hand, in spite of the difficult travel, they're excited to be going across the country and playing fresh foes.
After losing five seniors in addition to starting shortstop Andrea Ramirez, who suffered an ACL tear last fall, the team not only had to break in several new faces, but BYU coach Gordon Eakin had to shuffle around the infield to deal with the season-long injury.
And, despite a somewhat up-and-down performance this season, Eakin is pleased but not surprised by the Cougars' regional selection showing.
"It's nice to see we could overcome the adversity and do this well. Obviously we're excited to be part of the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year, but it's become an expectation more than a surprise," Eakin said.
BYU has hosted a regional the past two seasons but this year were sent across the country, leading Eakin to joke about renewing passports.
The Cougars have played four freshmen and four sophomores extensively this season, meaning Eakin sees plenty of bright spots in the team's future as well.
"I think this is probably the most talented team from top to bottom that we've ever had. It's amazing how quickly these young players have come in and competed," he said.
The four freshmen on the team have also become real team leaders. Paige Affleck came in as a top pitcher and recently no-hit New Mexico, and infielder Kristin Delahoussaye the Mountain West Conference's freshman of the year is an impressive lead-off hitter with what Eakin calls a great eye.
Also, Jessica Purcell has been hitting well, and Caschjen Davis has been Eakins' "surprise of the year," after being slated as a role player last fall.
"These young kids have stepped up and done a great job, but I don't believe in rebuilding just in retooling every year," Eakin said.
The Cougars lost Jennifer Whitely and Jodi Norton, who batted .416, and .348 respectively last season, but Angeline Quiocho (.385), Emi Snow-Willing (.300) and Daniela Snow (leading the team with a .422) all returned. In fact, eight Cougars are currently hitting better than .300, while Affleck sports a 1.40 ERA and pitching mate Christina Gwyn-Trice comes in at 1.61.The team itself has been streaky with seven winning streaks of four or more games and two four-game losing streaks, though both of those were early in the season. The Cougars' overall record is 42-18, and their conference record was a second-best 14-6, just one game behind No. 19 San Diego State, whom they defeated three times in four pairings this season.
NCAA softball regionals
BYU (3) vs. North Carolina (2)
Today, 3:30 p.m.