Chenise Delce Nearly Quit Softball, But Found Her Home At Arkansas
As Chenise Delce and the Arkansas Razorbacks prepare for the NCAA Tournament, it’s hard to believe that this reality almost didn’t come to be.
At the end of the 2021 season, Delce had no desire to continue playing the sport of softball. In her three years at Tulsa, she had three different pitching coaches. Due to the pitching coach carousel, Delce found it hard to build consistency during her time as a Golden Hurricane, leading her to feel a sense of defeat every time she left the field.
“I just felt like I wasn't really clicking with them and I was just steadily going downhill,” Delce said.
Although Delce felt no desire to continue playing softball, she entered the transfer portal. She made the decision not to quit so she could pursue a master’s degree. Delce also hoped the new program she would transfer into would reinvigorate her love for the sport.
“I didn't want to play softball, but I figured if I get in the portal and get on a better team where I feel seen and heard, maybe that will change the way I'm feeling right now about softball,” Delce said. “Even if I did still feel like I don't want to play softball, I can go and play for a school where I can get my master's cheaper than at Tulsa.”
Once Delce’s former travel ball coach, Brian Madden, got a hold of the news she was in the transfer portal, he asked her what she thought about Arkansas. Knowing Arkansas' success from 2021, she told Madden it would be a school she’d be interested in. Madden then helped the Arkansas coaching staff and Delce connect.
A couple days later, Matt Meuchel, Arkansas’ defensive coach, called Delce. One would think softball would have been the main topic discussed, but it was only a small part of their conversation. The two mainly discussed their families and what they enjoy.
“I was having conversations with him that I wasn't having with other teams or other coaches, so it was a good feeling for sure,” Delce said.
Delce realized that a family culture was important not only to Meuchel, but also to Deifel, who has made it the foundation of her program. The family-oriented culture is what made Delce realize she wanted to be a Razorback.
“I missed (Deifel’s) first call and I was like, ‘oh, yeah, I was washing the dishes and there’s a lot of them because I have a lot of siblings,’” Delce said. “(Deifel) was like, ‘oh, yeah, I feel you because I have two kids.’ It was very nice to see they were very family-oriented and how they told me we as a program do lots of things together and have the team over their house and just have fun.”
Despite her conversations with Meuchel and Deifel going well, Delce was still unsure if she would don the Arkansas uniform this year. Deifel told her they already made an offer to another pitcher who was not named. If the other pitcher took the offer, Delce would have to take her talents elsewhere.
Within a week, she was informed the other pitcher had declined the offer, leading Delce to pack her bags and head over to Fayetteville for her official visit.
After riding e-scooters around campus and feeling the family love on her official visit, Delce committed by the end of the day.
The Oklahoma native found the transition easy due to the players showing her love the way the coaches did during her recruiting process. That is when she knew she had found her home.
“I’m pretty sure the first time I met Linnie Malkin, she came to me and gave me a big hug,” Delce said. “I remember Mary (Haff) showed me restaurants and invited me out with her friends.”
During the season, Delce finally got what she’d longed for by working in unison with her coaches. After preseason play, Delce felt she was still one step away from being great. She expressed to Parker Staggs, a team manager, how she believed she needed to develop a drop ball or changeup to complement her rise ball. Staggs told Delce he and Deifel had the same conversation.
“So that right there, with us being on the same page but not even knowing, was pretty nice to know,” Delce said. “We're on the same wave.”
The next practice, Delce and Deifel worked on throwing a drop ball. Delce played around with different grips and releases, and then found the mechanics that worked for her.
Delce, who was named the 2022 SEC Pitcher of the Year, used that pitch to help Arkansas win its first outright SEC regular-season title and first SEC Tournament title earlier this month. She thanks her parents, coaches and teammates for the unconditional love and support they give her each day, which she says allows her to play the game she now loves again with confidence.
“I feel like this whole team and coaching staff are really great at picking each other up,” Delce said. “There's never a shortage of people who will make you feel good, so there's not really any room for doubt in yourself.”