Ever since they arrived in Texas it’s been non-stop for Lauren Muni and her teammates.
First there was 9 a.m. practice. Then a team picnic. Then they went to a local elementary school as part of a community service event. Oh, and don’t forget the official tournament banquet.
There’s hardly any time to think about softball, which may be an advantage for the Rochester Yellowjackets. The team is making its first appearance in the NCAA Division III finals bracket. They will face Wisconsin-Whitewater (37-11) at noon today at Suddenlink Field in Tyler, Texas.
Also in the field are St. Thomas (Minn.), Salisbury, Tufts, East Texas Baptist, Montclair State and Trine. The championship game of the double-elimination tournament is scheduled for Monday. “It’s pretty hectic and it seems unreal,” said Muni, a former standout at Clarence. “It’s nice to get our minds off our nerves for the first game.”
Of course the Yellowjackets know all about how to deal with nerves. They had to come out of the elimination bracket to win their sixth straight Liberty League title. They had to come out of the elimination bracket in the regionals as well. After losing to Alfred, 8-7, they needed to beat the Saxons twice in order to advance to the Super Regionals.
“We’re good at playing under pressure,” Muni said. “Just because we lost one game, we don’t over stress. We put it behind us. That game means nothing. All year we’ve talked about wining the next inning. That’s our focus.”
Rochester advanced to the championship field of eight for the first time in the 17-year history of the program. The Yellowjackets advanced after sweeping No. 15 Rowan in the best-of-three series in the NCAA Super Regional.
Muni, a sophomore, has been the designated hitter for Rochester (32-12), batting .274 in 44 games. She has driven in 30 runs and has seven homers.
Meghan Hennessey, a senior infielder from Immaculata, has started every game for Rochester and is hitting .382.
While the Yellowjackets are making their first appearance in the NCAA Finals bracket, it is their fifth overall trip to the NCAA field. That history of success, along with academics, is what attracted Muni to Rochester over smaller Division I programs.
“It’s nice to come into a program that has things together and they know what they’re doing,” Muni said. “I’ve come out of my shell a lot this year. I still like to just listen, but this year I speak up more and it’s nice to feel comfortable with the girls.”
Muni talks enthusiastically about her team, about their goals and ambitions on the national stage, but her voice drops into rote response when you ask about her dad. Craig Muni won three Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers (1987, 1988 and 1990) and played for the Buffalo Sabres from 1993 to 1996. He retired from the NHL in 1998 but continued to make his home, and raise his family, in Amherst.
Do people ask about her dad? Yes,” she said. “All the time.”
“I’m used to people asking about him. I take it as compliment. I know how good an athlete he is, and I want to be as good as he is.”