LAFAYETTE — Now that the Ragin’ Cajuns have seen the Blue Ridge Mountains and shared some stories, a coast-to-coast work trip will continue with a battle against the No. 2 ranked team in the country.
When the No. 9 ranked University of Louisiana at Lafayette softball team enters Howe Field at the University of Oregon campus Friday to face the Ducks (38-5), it will be the third leg of a four-part journey. The Cajuns went to Boone, North Carolina, to tangle with conference foe Appalachian State last weekend, then returned home before they head to the Pacific Northwest.
“I don’t think the travel matters,” sophomore Haley Hayden said. “We are playing the same sport that we are here at home. Traveling that far, it is a lot of team bonding.”
The trip to North Carolina produced a familiar result — a doubleheader sweep against the Mountaineers — for a team that is 34-5. The layout of Oregon will be unfamiliar between games.
“I don’t know what’s out there,” coach Michael Lotief said. “(The players) go where they want to. Some like to go to the mall, the mountains or the ocean. Part of college athletics is the travel experience. We are going to play softball, but they won’t be sitting in their rooms between games.”
The in-game atmosphere might provide some interesting sights and sounds, too. Douglas Fir trees surround Howe Field as a backdrop to duck logos and die-hard fans.
“This is like going to a super regional,” junior Shellie Landry said. “It’s hard when you don’t have your fans with you. We have to face tough competition. Oregon will pack the house. We know what we have to do — compete — whether our fans are there or not.”
Whether the Cajuns are on the East Coast, or on the West Coast facing Oregon All-American pitcher Cheridan Hawkins, the field dimensions and the other basics will stay largely the same.
“They (our players) have figured out how to lead and take care of each other a long time ago,” Lotief said. “Coaching is not just about standing up and giving orders. You trust that your kids are ready. Those kids have invested and prepared themselves, and it’s paying off.”
Before the Cajuns attend to the business portion of their Oregon trip, there is the matter of making their way 2,400 miles from the departure point to the destination. That distance creates some typically funny moments that Lotief has seen before.
“It’s always fun when they get on a plane and four or five have never flown before,” Lotief said. “They freak out and hold each other’s hands.”
Once the new fliers have their feet back on solid ground, the mission will switch back to softball ... for the most part.
“This is part of the journey and it’s what is in front of us. Their experiences as a team are (mostly) built in that locker room (at home) and on the practice field. On the road, they act all goofy. They are braiding each other’s hair or playing goofy games on their phones,” Lotief said with a smile.