For Alyson Habetz, the Alabama assistant and former Ragin’ Cajun, this is ‘the best time of the year’ _lowres

Advocate file photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- Alyson Habetz is greeted by her mother and father, Deanna and Leonard, after accepting a job with Patrick Murphy at LSU on June 10, 2011. Habetz and Murphy made a U-turn to Alabama, however, where they've led the Crimson Tide to its 10th appearance in the Women's College World Series.

It was love at first sight for Alyson Habetz 22 years ago.

Habetz, a first baseman for Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette), was part of the program’s first trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

The Ragin’ Cajuns shed their relative national obscurity during the event with a third-place finish — a moment that still resonates with Habetz.

“I will never forget the first time walking onto the field and having the Cajun fans just erupt,” said Habetz, a native of Crowley and graduate of Notre Dame High School. “Just the chills and goosebumps. It was the first trip ever, and it was unique and special.”

That turned out to be her lone trip as a player — but Habetz, who has become one of the nation’s top assistants in her 17th season at Alabama, returns for the 10th time in a coaching capacity when the sixth-seeded Crimson Tide faces third-seeded Michigan in the opening round of the WCWS at 5 p.m. Thursday.

“After we won (the Tuscaloosa Super Regional), I looked at my phone and had 50 to 100 texts and messages on Facebook,” Habetz said. “My response to them was that it never gets old.”

Alabama has become a WCWS fixture under head coach Patrick Murphy, an assistant at USL when Habetz played, with this marking the program’s fourth trip in the last five years. The Tide won the Southeastern Conference’s first national championship in 2012 and was second to Florida a year ago.

“It’s quite different,” Habetz said of reaching the WCWS as a player compared to that of a coach. “It’s special as a coach but in a different way. You feel that sense of reward for the student-athletes putting in all the hard work. And to know that you were a part of that is something just as fulfilling.”

Habetz said this year’s return to Oklahoma City is arguably the most rewarding for a coaching staff that had to replace All-Americans in pitcher Jackie Traina and catcher Kayla Hunt.

The Tide wasn’t cast in its typical role as a favorite in 2015 and didn’t win the SEC regular-season or tournament titles.

“That’s what makes it somewhat even more special,” Habetz said. “We always have the expectation within the Alabama softball family to finish at the World Series and to win it all. There were a bunch of question marks. We knew they had it in them and when it all came together that they could do it. They worked for it.”

Alabama rolled through its regional competition with three straight wins at home by a collective 28-1 score, setting up a super-regional showdown at home against powerful Oklahoma.

OU rallied in Game 1 for a 5-2 victory before Alabama, behind the pitching of freshman Alexis Osorio, swept the Sooners in dramatic fashion 2-0 and 5-3. The Tide’s return to Oklahoma City wasn’t complete until Marisa Runyon’s one-out grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning.

“Coming to Oklahoma City and playing in the College World Series,” Habetz said, “is the best time of year.”