Courtney Deifel’s parents always preached that she should use softball to gain any advantage possible for as long as she could.
In that spirit, she sought and accepted a graduate assistant position on Patty Gasso’s staff at Oklahoma in 2006 — despite the fact that she really had no desire to pursue a softball coaching career.
A decade later, Deifel is in her third season as a head coach — and second at Arkansas — and will lead her Razorbacks into Norman, Okla., the place where her coaching career began.
Arkansas and Oklahoma meet at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday.
The former Courtney Scott was raised in a family quite comfortable on a diamond. Her father, Ron, was the catcher on the University of Miami’s 1974 College World Series squad and her older sister, Amanda, pitched Fresno State to a softball national championship in 1998.
Courtney was a catcher and she, too, won a softball national championship, helping lead Cal to the 2001 Women’s College World Series title. She went on to play professionally in both the United States and — for three seasons — in Japan.
After her final season in Japan, Courtney began to think about the future. She knew she wanted to earn a master’s degree and — remembering her parents’ advice — figured becoming a graduate assistant coach might be the ticket.
Amanda Scott was an assistant coach at Iowa and had seen Gasso out on the recruiting trail. Courtney asked her sister to see if Gasso was in need of any GAs, and it wasn’t long before Gasso reached out.
“She was a really outstanding catcher, leader and competitor when she played,” said Gasso, who has led the Sooners to three national championships and nine Big 12 championships over her 22 seasons in Norman.
“That’s something that I always remembered about her.”
After Courtney arrived in Norman, she remembers Gasso asking if coaching was a career she actually wanted to pursue.
“I told her, ‘No, I just want to get my master’s,’” Courtney said. “Patty told me at the very beginning to promise that I’d be open to it.”
Gasso doesn’t quite remember it that way.
“What I learned about Courtney is that she’s very free-spirited,” Gasso said. “She just likes to take on a lot of different things. She’s not afraid of anything. She’ll go live anywhere. I think at that time — from what I remember — she wasn’t ready to get locked down into anything. She still was trying to figure out what she wanted to do.”
Courtney quickly fell in love with the coaching side of things. At one point, longtime Oklahoma pitching coach Melyssa Lombardi had to take time off because of her son’s birth, and Courtney led Sooners pitchers and catchers in her place.
“That’s when I really thought I could do it,” Courtney said. “I love being on this side. I love the strategy of it. I just loved being able to work with these girls at such an important time in their life and be part of growing them up.”
Deifel was an assistant coach at Louisville and Maryland before landing the Maryland head coaching gig in 2015. She led the Terps to a 16-game improvement from their previous season before leaving to take the Arkansas job.
Her first season in Fayetteville was rough. The Razorbacks went 17-31 in 2016 but began the 2017 season with a 19-1 record — the best start in program history. Arkansas has also been consistently ranked in national polls the last several weeks.
Things have been tougher since SEC play began, but there has undoubtedly been improvement under Deifel.
Gasso isn’t the least bit surprised.
“I thought she would be a really good coach and I thought she would be a very good example for young girls in helping them turn into women,” Gasso said.
“I was really pleased to see her stay on this course.”