Coaches share respect as Mizzou, Illinois-Chicago prep for NCAA softball regional opener
Illinois-Chicago head softball coach Lynn Curylo has known Missouri skipper Larissa Anderson for nearly 20 years.
The two college head coaches have run in the same circles in their current positions and during previous stops at Wright State and Hofstra, respectively.
As Curylo guides the Flames into their opening matchup of the NCAA Tournament's Columbia regional against the host Tigers at 3:30 p.m. Friday, she knows a couple of things to look out for.
"I think the one thing that always stands out to me about Larissa is her teams are very disciplined and they're fantastic on defense," Curylo told the Tribune this week. "They're pretty aggressive offensively. But I think it's defense that stands out the most to me."
UIC was 29-21 this season, posting an undefeated 14-0 record in home games. Away from the Windy City, the Flames had a .417-win percentage.
The Chicagoans had to win the Horizon League Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament, making the Flames the only team competing at Mizzou Softball Stadium this weekend to have already gone through win-or-go-home stakes this year.
"I think we came together at the right time," Curylo said. "We had a 40-game conference schedule. We ended up playing 36 because one of our teams actually had to opt out at the last minute. ... And we're pretty young. I think this year, we had 15 players play their first UIC home game at one time. And I'm sure there's a lot of teams going through that."
This is the Flames' 10th NCAA Tournament appearance in program history and their third in the last four iterations.
It was UIC who knocked Missouri out of the 2017 NCAA Tournament as part of the Eugene, Oregon, regional.
Playing in a regional against Oregon, Wisconsin and Missouri was the final stretch of Curylo's first year leading the Flames.
This will be the first time she faces an Anderson-led Tiger team.
"It was no joke. It was a very exciting tournament," Curylo said of the 2017 regional. "Obviously, we got the job done and beat Mizzou. But again, that's 2017. Their program is completely different from what it was back then. So that's the past and obviously we're focusing on who they are today."
UIC comes to Columbia as an underdog to make it past Saturday's action, much less advance past this weekend.
The Flames will match up with either Iowa State or Northern Iowa depending on Friday's result. The Cyclones and Panthers open the regional with a 1 p.m. Friday matchup.
However, each team has a clean slate at this stage of the season. Two losses on the diamond over the weekend ends your year, no matter previous precedent.
UIC knows a thing or two about being resilient. The Flames won all three games they played in the Horizon League Tournament after ending their regular season with their final eight games either being cancellations or losses.
Only the team's five seniors have been to an NCAA Tournament before, while around a dozen Missouri players have regional experience.
"We're really young. Overall, we're underclassmen-heavy," Curylo said. "So I think it's just a matter of allowing the seniors to lead the way they lead and how they've led all year. And for the younger guys, experience is experience. You can explain it to them, you can tell them what it's going to be like. But until they get there and step on the field and actually go through it themselves, you're not quite sure what you're going to get out of them."
The Flames will play in front of the largest crowd they've seen this season throughout the regional.
On Wednesday, the NCAA announced that local public health authorities will determine fan capacities at remaining 2021 championship events, allowing Mizzou Softball Stadium to be opened to full capacity for the regional games.
And that just adds to the enormity of what the Flames will feel on Friday, going up against Anderson's Tigers.
"She's really intense. She comes across as really intense on the field," Curylo said of Anderson. "And so you know that her teams are going to be ready to battle. If somebody were to say, 'What comes to mind when you think of Larissa?' I think of that."
Contact Eric Blum at email@example.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.
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