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Softball: Lotief relishes NCAA experence

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, May 23, 2016


in the Regional Championsip matchup between ULL and Texas A&M at Lamson Park in Lafayette, Louisiana on May 22, 2016.

UL coach Michael Lotief celebrates his Ragin’ Cajuns winning the NCAA Lafayette Regional on Sunday at Lamson Park.(Photo: Michael O. Curley/Special to the Advertiser)


Like any head coach, it’s sometimes hard to figure out exactly how to take UL softball coach Michael Lotief in postgame interview sessions.

Their true intentions often range from low-keying a big issue to overrating a smaller one to just flat out trying to deceive whoever they think might read their comments.

On this particular issue, though, I tried very hard to buy Lotief’s comments.

When describing all the intensity and excitement surrounding Sunday’s 9-8 thriller over Texas A&M to win the NCAA Lafayette Regional and advance to a fifth consecutive Super Regional, Lotief took the mellow route.

For a brief moment, he was trying to convince us that some of that unyielding pursuit of a national championship that has always burned inside of him has been replaced.

Or at least misdirected.

Or would you buy toned down a notch?

“The game isn’t the real important thing,” Lotief said. “Over the last year and a half, instead of stressing over all of my emotions, I’ve learned to enjoy the crowd, enjoy the experience. I try to connect with the kids to make sure they can relax.”

He made similar comments after a tournament game earlier this season and it basically went in one ear and out the other.

But this was the NCAA Lafayette Regional. This was Lotief and his Ragin’ Cajuns earning a spot in the final 16.

Suddenly, we’re supposed to believe that it’s more about how you play, or in this case enjoy, the game?

(Here’s me being cynical.)
I’m sure some of Lotief’s former players really found those comments interesting to ponder.

But seriously folks, if indeed he’s actually been able to reach a point in his career where the big picture is the more noble attributes to athletics, more than that relentless pursuit of a championship, good for him.

Actually, great for him … (even if you don’t totally buy it.)

“Win, lose or draw, this was fun,” Lotief said after the nine-inning victory.

He sure looked to be having a ball. Shortly after the game, he was flailing his arms around so much, it kind of reminded me of what Giants’ third-base coach looked like as Bobby Thomson rounded the bases to win the NL pennant in 1951.

“What a great experience,” Lotief said.

There are so many layers to that statement for Lotief and his program.

While his language may sound softer these days, Lotief is no flower child. His passion to win has always burned deep.

He always has embraced, though, the mentality of change that marked the civil rights movement.

The fact that over 2,000 fans packed Lamson Park for a game that was seen nationally on the ESPN family of networks remains a huge feather in Lotief’s cap … in his constant battle for gender equity.

In the back of his mind, Lotief is also elated to see the fruits of other labors behind the scene in NCAA committee board rooms.

For years, mid-major programs like UL didn’t even get the opportunity to host regionals in far too many cases, before the RPI system was tweaked to provide some relief to smaller power programs. Now programs not in power conferences – like UL and James Madison – have a realistic shot at hosting NCAA Regionals and sometimes even Super Regionals.

So while all the coaches and players that have allowed the Cajuns to win five straight regional titles and seven in the last nine seasons deserve maximum credit, Lotief understands how important it is to play at home.

He also remains convinced that several great UL squads of the past – not so fortunate to be playing under today’s rules – would have advanced farther than they did under today’s format.

Also contributing to his huge smile Sunday was the fact that he’s managed to do it all his way.

Oh sure, he gave in somewhat to the slapping revolution years ago. But at his core, Lotief digs the long ball. He loves and believes in the power game.

And the benefits of that philosophy were in realized in full force Sunday with four big home runs in the slugfest win.

“We just kept hacking,” Lotief said. “That’s the way we’ve played all year.”

Time will tell if his Ragin’ Cajuns ever win a national championship.

Time will tell how much longer Lotief will even be leading the program.

But if all of the physical travails he’s been through with his throat has helped Lotief and his family really enjoy the fruits of their labor while they’re still plowing in the field, it’s time for a standing ovation.

So many of us wait way too long to get to that point … if we ever truly get there.