NC State softball ahead of the curve

When you’re in last place in the ACC softball standings, there isn’t much to look forward to in May.

“It was like, ‘Oh, let’s go have our end-of-the-year party,’” N.C. State senior pitcher Emily Weiman said.

When you’re in the Super Regional round of the NCAA tournament, the party can wait. The Wolfpack (38-20) will play at No. 2-seed Oregon in the first game of a best-of-3 series Friday. The winner will advance to the College World Series in Oklahoma City.

As much fun as a spirited game of Jenga or Hedbanz might be at a college party, this is what Weiman wanted, but she wasn’t sure was possible, when she began her N.C. State career.

Third-year coach Shawn Rychcik has quickly remolded a senior group, that went 23-31 in 2012, into one of the best teams in the country.

N.C. State is one of two ACC teams in the Super Regional round, which consists of 16 teams, and one of two unseeded teams to advance through regional play.

“We’re two wins away from our dream,” Weiman said.

Making progress

Weiman and senior shortstop Renada Davis have been a big reason for the Wolfpack’s success, but they credit Rychcik with instilling a winning mentality.

“He has really given our team a mindset that has raised us up and made us a winning program,” said Weiman, who has a 31-15 record and a 2.34 ERA this season. “We all came together and believed in him.”

N.C. State won the ACC title in Rychcik’s first season in 2013 and advanced to the NCAA tournament in each of his first two seasons. The 2-1 win against Fordham in the regional round, on a game-ending home run by Maggie Hawkins, represents the latest climb by the program, which has made progress in each season under Rychcik.

“We just keep going up,” said Davis, who holds the ACC career record for home runs (63). “We just want to see where we go.”

N.C. State has won more games in each of Rychcik’s three seasons, improving from 35 to 36 to 38 this season, with a chance at more. He is quick to praise Weiman and Davis as “the two best players in school history,” for the team’s rise.

“They’ve been awesome,” Rychcik said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.”

A standard to meet

Rychcik is encouraged by the early recruiting returns, with second baseman Alyssa Compton and designate player Meredith Burroughs filling important roles as freshmen. He said even though the results have been instant, there’s no such thing as a quick fix.

“I don’t think anybody builds a program in two or three years,” Rychcik said. “It’s a five-, 10-year deal, but we’re off to a good start.”

The players have responded to Rychcik, Weiman said, because of his track record at Boston University and the U.S. national team and because of his coaching style.

“He lets us have fun,” Weiman said. “He doesn’t have a lot of rules. He lets us be accountable for ourselves and be responsible for what we have to do.”

Fun used to mean the end-of-year party, but Rychcik has been able to adjust their goals and change their thinking.

“All of our players know there’s a standard to meet,” Davis said. “Being average is not acceptable on this team. We are going to find a way to be better.”

So far, the Wolfpack has. Rychcik said it was important to enjoy this week but also to understand the opportunity at hand.

The softball program is only 12 years old at N.C. State, but with two wins against the Ducks, the Wolfpack would make its first trip to the College World Series.

Rychcik said building a program is a process and takes time, but he wouldn’t mind skipping a few steps ahead.

Giglio: 919-829-8938