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As first game approaches in February, Texas looks to extend its softball season into June

Texas coach Mike White, entering his fourth season coaching the Longhorns, has come close to guiding Texas to the Women's College World Series. Texas fell in the third game of the NCAA super regionals twice, in 2019 and in 2021.

It's been awhile since Texas played a softball game in the month of June.

That first week of June is typically reserved for the Women's College World Series — this year's is scheduled for June 2-10. But Texas hasn't made it that far since 2013.

The Longhorns have gotten close to booking trips to Oklahoma City; in 2019, Texas fell to Alabama in the third game of the super regionals, and two years later, to Big 12 rival Oklahoma State in the third game of the 2021 super regionals.

"Being that we've always fallen one short of making it to the World Series, our mantra this year is definitely 'One More,'" senior catcher Mary Iakopo said. "We're working real hard to get there this year."

Statesman Q&A: Texas' Mary Iakopo on softball, mental health and facing Miranda Elish

Why has Texas been unable to get over the hump? Statistically-speaking, there may not be just one answer.

Keep in mind that Texas was the No. 3 team in the country when the 2020 season was cut short by the pandemic. In 2019, the Longhorns were eliminated by an 8-5 loss to Alabama. In 2021, it was a 2-0 defeat to the Cowgirls. Against Alabama, two home runs doomed Texas, which had lost star pitcher Miranda Elish to a freak injury the night before. And the biggest hit of the Oklahoma State game was arguably a Cowgirls' bunt single.

Veteran second baseman Janae Jefferson, a fifth-year senior, is Texas' career leader in all-time batting average and hits. She's also prepping to play for Team USA in this summer's World Games in Birmingham, Ala.

Iakopo contends there is a major similarity between those losses to Alabama and Oklahoma State. Neither game was played in Austin; both Alabama and Oklahoma State got to host their super regionals since they entered those postseasons with a better seed than Texas.

"Homefield advantage gives us the upper hand in making it to the World Series," Iakopo said. 

Added Texas coach Mike White: "Playing on the road, it's a lot tougher for sure. There's nothing like being at home and making the College World Series. That's going to be our goal."

In order to guarantee the right to host a Super Regional, Texas would have to earn a top-eight overall seed when the NCAA's postseason field is announced in May. Coincidentally, Texas was No. 8 in this year's preseason poll by USA Softball. The Longhorns are No. 10 in the NFCA poll.

Texas opens its season this weekend in Florida at the FGCU Kickoff Classic. Earlier this week, White said this is "our deepest team we've had to date." This is his fourth season with the Longhorns.

Texas pitcher Shea O'Leary figures to lead the Longhorns' pitching staff this season. Former top pitcher Miranda Elish has transferred to Oklahoma State, but the Longhorns have added Fresno State transfer Hailey Dolcini. Both O'Leary and Dolcini have earned preseason All-America recognition.

Texas opens with a remade pitching staff. Shea O'Leary, the top returnee, and Fresno State transfer Hailey Dolcini were both named preseason All-Americans by Softball America. Transfers Estelle Czech (North Carolina State) and Logan Hulon (Houston) and freshman Sophia Simpson also could contribute.

In the field, White said three Longhorns are contending for playing time at third base and he has three or four options at first base. McKenzie Parker, the incumbent at shortstop, is being pushed by Alyssa Washington. White wanted more speed and defense in the outfield, so transfers Bella Dayton and Lou Gilbert could join Lauren Burke and Jordyn Whitaker out there. If White wants to play one of his younger catchers, Iakopo could be moved to a different position.

"I'm not a coach that just has 10 players that are going to play all the time," White said.

Texas has 17 underclassmen but does boast some experience. Iakopo and Burke reached the Women's College World Series while playing for White at Oregon in 2018. Dayton was a contributor on Arizona's World Series team last season.

"The experience is going to be big for us," White said. "I think they all want to do something to help Janae Jefferson (reach the Women's College World Series)."

More:Janae Jefferson to represent Texas on Team USA softball roster 

Jefferson enters her fifth season as Texas' all-time leader in batting average and hits. This year, the longtime second baseman could join Cat Osterman as the only four-time All-Americans in program history.

Earlier this year, she earned a roster spot on the USA Softball Women's National Team. Team USA will compete this summer in the 2022 World Games.

Earlier this year, she earned a roster spot on the USA Softball Women's National Team. Team USA will compete this summer in the 2022 World Games.

That international competition will be held in Birmingham, Ala., in July. For now, though, the only month this summer that Jefferson is concerned about is June.

"I wasn't really even worried about the USA team until I got the opportunity to go to that tryout," Jefferson said. "My main goal for this year has always been to take this team to the Women's College World Series."