LAKE CHARLES, LA. (KVHP) - There's always something special about your first-- anything.
For Virginia coach Joanna Hardin, McNeese was her first head coaching job. During her two seasons with McNeese (2015-16), she led the Pokes to a conference title and a NCAA tournament appearance. For the first time in two years, Hardin returned to Cowgirl Diamond on Thursday.
I have such a heart for Lake Charles and McNeese and it is just been a blessing to come back and see so many faces and see the work in progress," said Hardin. "James [Landreneau] has done a great job and his staff has done an amazing job here. It brings me so much joy to see them continuing to grow and develop."
The Cowgirl Classic, which lasts through Sunday, brings back Hardin and the Cavs, which started with a doubleheader Thursday. Pre-game, Hardin didn't believe coaching against her former players would be strange.
"I don't think it will be weird, I think it will be really fun and I am excited. I love my kids and I think this is a cool moment for my career and the game and what the game has done for me."
"I think once the game starts, it's going to be kind of blank faces, because this is what we do and this is our job, and we are prepared for everyone here this weekend."
The homecoming though, isn't what excited Hardin the most.
"I think competition and the way it supposed to be, it's supposed to help everyone get better. I think getting to face their offense, defense and their pitching staff will help us get better."
Hardin is now her second year with UVA, and she's attempting to instill a lot of the same values she did with the Cowgirls during her time in Lake Charles. Her Cavaliers returned to the ACC Tournament in 2017, the first trip to the postseason since 2013. Virginia's nine ACC victories marked the most since 2010.
"It's exciting to be heading in the right direction and the direction that we want to go. These kids are really really big pieces of our foundation for the future," Hardin said. "We have taken some good steps but we know there is a lot of work to do and this weekend is one more baby steps moving forward."
Despite the nerves leading into the weekend, there is nothing like getting the season started.
"Opening day is just the culmination of a lot of work and a lot of effort. We are going to get a really good picture of where we are as a team, and McNeese is going to get a great picture of where they are as a team," said Hardin. "This is just the first step of a long process to get to May."