WCWS Press Conference: Louisiana Lafayette, Kentucky, Alabama, Oklahoma

WCWS Press Conference Session 1


WCWS Press Conference: Louisiana Lafayette, Kentucky, Alabama, Oklahoma

THE MODERATOR: I would like to welcome you all to the 2014 Women's College World Series. This is the first of today's press conferences. With the head coaches, to introduce to you to my right, the head coach of Louisiana-Lafayette, Michael Lotief. From the University of Kentucky, Rachel Lawson, from Alabama, Patrick Murphy and from Oklahoma, Patty Gasso. Just a few things before we begin. Please raise your hand and wait for the microphone to get to you. When you get the microphone please state your name and affiliation for the coaches. Thank you.

COACH LAWSON: First, I want to thank you guys for all being here and I want to congratulate everyone for being here. This is a special event for Kentucky. Specifically, it's a big milestone for us because it's the first time that we've been able to be on this field and in this great venue so we're very excited about that part of it. I feel a sense of accomplishment for our school and university. They have put a lot of time and resources and effort into women's athletics and softball in general. So I feel good that our student athletes could show that off at this great venue.

COACH GASSO: There are so many people to thank in advance for all the hard work they put in, from the Oklahoma City All Sports Association, University of Oklahoma, all the workers here at the Hall of Fame. They have a passion and a love for this sport. You can see that by the work they put in. Work and passion brings fans. So I'm excited about the increased attendance that's been here. I want to congratulate, as Rachel said, all of the participants. It's interesting because there's some old flavor and new flavor and it's exciting to see the diversity among  throughout the country all the teams that are in. Very proud of this Oklahoma team this season. We've been through quite a bit and we started slow and finished fast. And extremely proud of their efforts. The hard part to me is over and the fun part begins. The hardest part is getting through a regional and super regional with so much at stake. Once you're here to me it's like “let's go!”

I think my team feels that way as well. We're excited to be back, it's an absolute honor and privilege and excited to get started and have a great time doing it.

COACH LOTIEF: Since we were here last in '08 this place has really transformed. The additions to the stadium and really how this venue and the sport have grown has been phenomenal. I think that tracks what's going on with softball across the country. I'm so proud that we get to showcase our sport in such a special venue.

I think we've come such a long way in terms of equity for female athletes and opportunities for female athletes. We've still got a ways to go, but it keeps getting better and better and better and better.

Again, I'm so proud of my team. We've been a work in progress really all year. These kids have worked incredibly hard on the field and they've done such a good job off of the field. In the classroom we have our highest GPA that we have ever had, and they're fun kids to be around. The older that you get and the longer that you're around this generation, they renew you. They renew you because you understand that they're willing to dream and then go out and chase those dreams. It's just a great time for our sport and a great time for, really, the opportunities that these kids have in order to showcase their abilities and their talents.

Again, I know everybody up here at this table and respect them immensely, not only with what they have done in terms of winning and success, but really how they do it and do it with such class and do it for the love of the sport and always do it because we're trying to take more steps and leave it better than we got it. I'm going to have fun, you know? It's such a tough journey to get here, like we talked about before and I agree, I think now that there is so much parity amongst this field and I think a lot of these games are going to be decided by a pitch, by a play, by a call and it's going to be fun to see what happens over the next week and we're excited to be part of it.

COACH MURPHY: All of us at Alabama want to say thanks to the Oklahoma City All Sports Association, The University of Oklahoma, the City of Oklahoma City and ASA/USA softball because this never, ever gets old for us. It's the ninth trip for Alabama. I can remember the first one when there was about five of you out there. The gentleman last night at the reception said this is the most hospitable city in the country, and right before we got to that incredible building for the reception, in the parking deck I had a huge 15passenger van and I had no idea where we were going to park it. We got out and the gentleman said just come in here, we won't tell anybody, we won't charge you, you're here for the World Series and it's no big deal. The people of Oklahoma City are awesome and we can't wait to start playing.

Q. For Patrick and Patty, can you talk about how similar the other team is compared to what you saw in the final a few years ago and how different the teams are that you're facing this time?

COACH MURPHY: She has a different pitcher, that's the biggest. She's got a heck of a good offense, a great defense. Her coaching staff is intact. They're always going to win. They're going to have the crowd again and we're a little different, but the biggest difference I think is Ms. Ricketts is gone and they have Kelsey Stevens.

COACH GASSO: I would say the one thing I know about Alabama is that they play to win and it might be a slightly different cast of characters, but in the end they know how to win and that's through Patrick Murphy and his staff and their tradition of softball. So we know when you look at us, and our numbers, they look pretty similar, but when you put us on the field it's two teams that have won a national championship, that understand what's at stake in the first game, and two teams that are going to get after it. So I would say that they might look different but they know how to do it. They know how to do it when they get here.

Q. For so many years it was the Pac-12 invitational, with Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, et cetera, and it changed in 2000 when Oklahoma won the title but it seems like the balance of power shifted a little bit. You only have one Pac-12 team here this year; they are the top seed but only one team. Can you talk about how that power has shifted toward the East a little bit and just how softball has grown over the last 10, 15 years.

COACH MURPHY: I think the greatest example is these two here, Rachel has her starting pitcher from SoddyDaisy, Tennessee, and Michael has his starting pitcher from Leesville, Louisiana. How does that happen? It's a credit to their coaching. Kids are growing up now anywhere in the country  Patty's is from New Mexico. There is softball all over

Q. For Patrick and Patty, can you talk about how similar the other team is compared to what you saw in the final a few years ago and how different the teams are that you're facing this time?

COACH MURPHY: She has a different pitcher, that's the biggest. She's got a heck of a good offense, a great defense. Her coaching staff is intact. They're always going to win. They're going to have the crowd again and we're a little different, but the biggest difference I think is Ms. Ricketts is gone and they have Kelsey Stevens.

COACH GASSO: I would say the one thing I know about Alabama is that they play to win and it might be a slightly different cast of characters, but in the end they know how to win and that's through Patrick Murphy and his staff and their tradition of softball. So we know when you look at us, and our numbers, they look pretty similar, but when you put us on the field it's two teams that have won a national championship, that understand what's at stake in the first game, and two teams that are going to get after it. So I would say that they might look different but they know how to do it. They know how to do it when they get here.

Q. For so many years it was the Pac-12 invitational, with Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, et cetera, and it changed in 2000 when Oklahoma won the title but it seems like the balance of power shifted a little bit. You only have one Pac-12 team here this year; they are the top seed but only one team. Can you talk about how that power has shifted toward the East a little bit and just how softball has grown over the last 10, 15 years.

COACH MURPHY: I think the greatest example is these two here, Rachel has her starting pitcher from SoddyDaisy, Tennessee, and Michael has his starting pitcher from Leesville, Louisiana. How does that happen? It's a credit to their coaching. Kids are growing up now anywhere in the country  Patty's is from New Mexico. There is softball all over the country. They sit at home and watch this event on ESPN every year and all the kids that watch dream of coming here and I think that's why the parity has spread.

COACH GASSO: I would say, also, all the kids back in the day would watch UCLA and Arizona, but not everybody could go there, so some of these athletes would start to venture out. And you could see, to me, when we would get one of those. Back in my day it was a lefty pitcher named Lana Moran out of California who took the step to come to Oklahoma and it started to spread and reach out.

But I also believe that administrators stepping up for programs throughout the country, and building some phenomenal facilities and really putting their money where their mouth is, and saying, hey, we support you and kids will come to those places. They wanted to play in tough conferences, with great facilities. They want to play, I think, for coaches that know how to win, a lot of them. Now you're seeing them just dispersed all over the country but ready to go leave the West Coast if needed or wanting to. And a great example for me is the Lauren Chamberlains, Ricketts, Schultz, Gascoigne, Shelby Pendley of New Mexico. As Patrick said, they're coming from all over. They just see the vision of the World Series, but some of them see a vision of leaving home and starting a life and becoming kind of their own, free adult. Many.

COACH LOTIEF: No disrespect to the Pac-12, you realize what quality of softball is being played in that conference. I think it's more the focus of what's going on around the rest of the country, and I think because of the exposure, first of all, the exposure that this sport gets has allowed the sport to grow across the country. Then you watch as coaches take over programs that may not have the tradition and they go in there and they build it day by day, by day, by day, and you see the same opportunities that are being afforded female athletes on the West Coast being afforded athletes across the country. When you get a situation where that's happening and you see that equity is going to spread throughout the entire country, you're going to see the quality of softball continue to grow and get better.

This sport is not limited geographically, I mean, it's not! If we provide the opportunities and these kids dream  my kid's dream every morning, they wake up and they have the same dreams, and they pay the same price and they work just as hard. Given the right set of circumstances, you can show up here.

Q. Patrick talk about OU's lineup and the complexity of it changing now that Lauren Chamberlain is back and hitting the ball well here lately?

COACH MURPHY: Well, I had Lauren and Destinee, another California kid on the USA Junior National team in Bogota and Lauren committed before I got a shot to go out to California and watch her. (Laughter.) We were taking batting practice in Bogota, and it's 110 degrees and everybody is dying and the ball is like mush in international ball and she hit one about 260 and then she circled the bases for a triple and I was like, this kid is going to be good. Obviously she means so much to them. At any time she can hit it out Destinee was one of the best outfielders on that team. She was one of the best slappers. Not only could she soft slap, she could hard slap, put it in the gap, put it over an outfielder’s head, they had very good lefties up and down the lineup that hit the ball hard, obviously, and Shelby Pendley was on that team, too. It was a loaded team and she has had a heck of a year, over .400, 18 home runs, 17 doubles, leads the team in RBIs, and it's a stacked lineup, a typical Oklahoma lineup.

Q. Coach Lawson, you've got your pitcher wearing a mask. Can you talk about the trend that's starting to protect pitchers and the mask and do you think it should be favored?

COACH LAWSON: Maybe I'll get an endorsement deal out of this! Actually how it works out is when she was 10, I'm not sure about the age, but she was playing shortstop and got hit in the face with a ball.

So starting at the age of 10 then she started wearing a mask and she has worn one ever since. She had never been hit in the face with a pitch until regionals. So when we were in regionals this year a ball came back at her and it hit her face mask and went all the way out, so that was the first time since she was 10 that she had been hit. It doesn't faze her. We didn’t call timeout. She called the pitch, she threw the next pitch. If you've seen her, she is very steady very low key, she was like, “well, thank goodness I had the face mask. That's the first time it's ever happened!”

And it didn't faze her because she is comfortable with it. Now the interesting part is, she is a first baseman as well, and she does not wear it when she plays first base. She just wears it when she pitches. As far as nationally, we see it as a trend when they are younger and then they don't wear it when they get older. I personally won't speculate as whether that should happen or if rules were in place. I wouldn't be surprised if players growing up started to feel more comfortable having them, if they had them their whole life like Nunley. Similar to face masks I think in ASA ball, all kids are required to wear their face mask on their helmet, and when they get older they make the decision to take it off or use it. And you’re going to see in the World Series you will see some that have it and some that don't. So now we're at a place of personal preference but I would not be surprised if more and more kids starting to come through that, have had them their whole life, will continue to wear them.

Q. Coach Lotief you have great talent, Christine Hamilton out there in the circle, she is low key and quiet.

COACH LOTIEF: Really?

Q. At least to us, there is the glasses and the persona. How do you reconcile what person we see off the field and what we see on the field, and how she carries herself in the circle.

COACH LOTIEF: Well, she is not a lowkey kid. That's not her personality at all. She is fiery, gritty, gutsy, funloving, she is goofy, she is crazy. I mean, all of these pitchers actually get in the circle and they get in competition and it's different. I mean, that different form of personality has to come out. You have to focus and you have to bear down and, I mean, you realize you're facing the best hitters in the world on the biggest stage.

She has been able to do that. Off the field, her personality is  she is funny and goofy and crazy and all that good stuff. With regard to her glasses, I'll speak to that briefly. I love our sport because we don't have to be stoic and follow the traditional rules of baseball. You can have your own personalities. We can have our celebrations at home plate after home runs, you can show emotion. You can do a dog pile. Our sport, because it's females, we allow cheering. You can cheer in the dugout, you can have all that fun and I think that's why our fan base loves our sport, because we don't try to suppress all that. We let these kids have some fun but, you know, don't take from that that they're not warriors and not intense and they're not gettin' after it.

These kids are every bit the warrior and every bit the competitors and they're every bit gettin' after it. We just allow them to be expressive and be themselves and have some fun with it as it's going.

Q. With how much Kelsey Nunley has pitched recently, was the plan to ride her like you did through the Regionals and Super Regionals? And will that keep up going forward where she is just who you have out there and that's it?

COACH LAWSON: I don't know that it was the plan. Anybody who knows me knows I always have some level of a plan. I think that I'm always ready for plan B. We actually have a very good pitching staff, we've used all four of our pitchers all year, and all of our pitchers have gotten key wins against our teams. Two of them are freshmen in Shannon Smith and Megan Prince. They've both had great wins, and Lauren Cumbess has been a main stay for us, and she has gotten other wins and the only other pitcher on staff that has postseason experience.

I knew it was going to be important for our team all year that we needed a pitching staff to get through it because over the past four seasons, I have seen in our sport a number of great pitchers injured and a lot of that was because all of the wear and tear on their body. Not only in college but the wear and tear that's put on them on travel ball and it catches up.

It was important to me that I continued to protect her throughout this entire year and that's why you'll see that in the beginning and the middle of the season the duties were more shared, but as we rolled into postseason Kelsey not only did a great job but she came into her own. Not only did she win games but when she went into the SEC Tournament I felt like she matured as a pitcher over night. She was incredible. She puts the ball exactly where she wants to. She doesn't shy away from much, she is even-keeled and as those games continued to go and as she continued to put the ball where she wanted to, we continued to pitch her and pitch her and as long as she pitches well, she'll pitch. We did not pitch her in the SEC Tournament game because she had not pitched three games in a weekend up to that point all season and that would have been her fourth game. We didn't know the wear and tear on her body and our goal was the World Series. This is the biggest stage in college softball right now but we didn't pitch her, but she's pitched every other game and she continues to keep her velocity up and she’s strong. She does what she needs to do, so as long as those things are happening, I imagine she'll get the ball.

With that said, I don't think any team can win the World Series with one pitcher anymore. I think those days are over and if we're going to go deep into the tournament we are going to have to go deep into our pitching staff and they've been in big games, so it will definitely be okay, but you have to give Kelsey the ball as long as she can take it.

Q. Patty, can you expound on what it means to you and your program to be back here and defend your national championship?

COACH GASSO: I think especially how we started the season, to see where we are now is pretty amazing, and we're very proud of our accomplishments. I don't think that this team is going into this World Series saying we have to defend our title.

It's just get out and do your thing and play well. We don't talk about it. It's not worth talking about. It's not worth trying to put pressure  it's tough. You gotta take one pitch at a time and one game at a time. So we aren't focusing in on that. It is an honor to be back to get the opportunity, but it's certainly not a focus of where we're at. It's preparing for each team and doing what we do best and that's just kind of playing in the present moment not looking ahead.

Q. Patty to follow up on that, do you feel like the early season struggles your team had came from putting pressure on themselves with it being the national champion?

COACH GASSO: Absolutely. As we got started we were trying to figure out who we are. We lost some of the best college softball players to play the game and now we're trying to figure out how to get back to that kind of prominence. The pressure was definitely put on, unnecessarily, probably by all of us. As we got along through the middle of March, especially the end of March and as we began Big 12 play this team started to really gel together, started to relax and started to step forward when some prominent players were out.

We had to find ways to continue to make things happen. When Lauren was out for 20 plus games, this team decided, let's keep going and find a way to get her back, give her time to get healed and hopefully have her back in the lineup. So they've just pieced some things together. I've seen them grow up quite a bit, mature as softball athletes but also into young women. So it's been a journey that is something I'll never forget and this is just kind of the icing on top of all of it.

Q. For all the coaches, we're not that far removed from an era where every World Series games seemed to be 10 and 21. I'm looking at the regionals and super regionals. Has softball outgrown that and is it because pitching is down and hitting is up? What's your take?

COACH LAWSON: I think you will see that some, I don't think it's going to be the norm anymore. I don't believe it's because pitching is down, I think there are outstanding pitchers out there. I think the times are different. I think that number one, there is more scouting out there, the video with all the TV and with the live streaming and the video, that changes the dynamic of scouting and understanding the other pitchers and there is more game film. That helps the hitters. I think the other thing that's happened in this great sport is along with the resources you see a huge increase in coaches' salaries, so I think there are a number of talented coaches who have come over into softball. Some people have stayed in our sport and come over from baseball into softball and you're seeing I believe the coaching in college is at an alltime high, and I think they're doing an exceptional job of preparing their girls to compete on the national level and specifically, you're seeing that happen offensively.

Finally, I think that over the last 20 years all of the major changes in the rule book have been to promote hitting in our sport, because there was such a lack of offensive production. In my opinion those three things are a really big deal and have contributed to why you're seeing so much offense but also with that great design you're seeing the fan base go up tremendously. The number of individuals who are going to be here this weekend watching the World Series and watching it on TV, I think that offense has contributed to all the spectators that we're getting in this sport.

Q. As coaches how do you balance the personalities, crazy bows in people's hair and balance that personality with focusing on the game?

COACH LOTIEF: Kind of what I said before. If you're in the dugout with these kids and you know what's going on, they're intense and fierce competitors. To me the fact that these kids can play under the pressure they play under and still smile and still cheer and still relax and still have fun, to me it's a talent.

I think that's something that people, our fans enjoy that. They enjoy the fact that our kids can be expressive, and that they can enjoy the game. They can be so into it, and they can handle  you don't have to  when they boot a ball or they strike out in a big moment or give up a home run, will they feel it? Yes, they understand the disappointment, but they don't wear that  a lot of these kids don't wear that for the next 24 hours, they're good to the next pitch. I think our kids are mentally tougher because they're more expressive. I think our game allows these kids to play each pitch and enjoy it. Last night at the function they all talked about family and sisterhood and team and how much they loved being a part of this and that's what's great about our sport. I'm glad that our sport allows these kids to be individuals. To express their individual personalities within the context of team and family.

COACH MURPHY: We have something called “Speakers on Success” and once a month we invite a business person into our team room and talk to the team about how they got to where they are in the business world, and almost to a person everyone starts by saying “the reason why I love to watch softball is because when you play you have so much fun.”
And like Michael said you can combine relentless competitors, servant leaders and kids that have fun. I think all four of us have shown that. Like Patty said at the very beginning when we get out there, we're all going to compete, but we're all going to have fun, too.

COACH GASSO: You said something about bows. (Laughter.) I think every program has their own personality and what works for one may not work for another, but you have seen quite a bit more personality in our game. From the biggest bows you've ever seen to  to me, it doesn't matter. As long as you can get out and play the game the way it's needing to be played, and it doesn't distract you, then go for it.

We're a little  I don't think it's because of me, but just our style our personality is not quite as “big” I guess. I've seen props in dugouts, and I've seen wigs and costumes and things that are going a little overboard, but that's the style of that team. You know, that works for them. Maybe it doesn't work for us, but it doesn't take away from our passion for the game, so I think everyone here has a different  we played at ULL, those guys are drummers, they need to go into bands and play drums because they can beat the drum and have good rhythm.

To me I loved it because it made me feel like we were at a big event. It brought atmosphere. So, sometimes it brings atmosphere, sometimes, like I said, just the personality of the program. Everybody is different. What works for one may not work for another, but it's definitely where the sport seems to be going right now.

COACH LAWSON: On the bows, I'm not really a bow girl, as you can tell, but nobody can tell me — think about guys and their nasty beards in baseball. They're going into the postseason. You know they check out their beard and making sure it's long as the girls do with their bows. So nobody can tell me there is a difference between a big, nasty beard and a bow. I think they're accessories and it's what they're comfortable with and I don't think much about it.

Q. Coach Lotief, obviously between you and Kentucky, similarities the last couple of seasons getting almost here, this year you're here, what similarities to you do you see between the programs, but also the field with these two teams?

COACH LOTIEF: Well, Rachel and I go way back. We were in the “Belt” together for all those good years and we know each other well. There is so much mutual respect. I watched her take the program at Western and absolutely change the culture there. I watched it become an extension of her personality. Then I watched her do it again on a bigger stage at Kentucky. To be able to go in there to a program in that tough of a conference and start from the grass roots and just change the entire culture and while you're competing with the other sports there, I think they play a little basketball there  and to be able to do it on that timeline has been phenomenal.

It's just me talking, it's a shame that she has to get here or that we have to get here to validate what she has done all those other years. There are a lot of teams that are not here and that may never get here. We have teams that come here all the time. But you have teams that navigate themselves through a regional or through a super regional and they may come up a little short. We ought to celebrate. Our sport should celebrate them, too. The fact that she has done it the last three years, our program has done it the last three years and you come up short and you don't get here  I had somebody ask me last week, after coming up short those times and now finally getting here, does that validate it? It doesn't. The parity throughout the sport, how hard it is to get here, it's become harder and harder and tougher every year. What she has done the last three years should have given everybody the idea that the culture at Kentucky has changed. And to do it on the road  to finish in the finals of super regionals every year I would take that as a successful year every year. Of course when you get here, the national venue, there is no other feeling like this. There isn't. Because you get to be on the stage and you get to compete for the National Championship, but, again, I'll say this: There are a lot of programs that have never been here and there are a lot of programs that have done it the right way, consistently over a lot of years. There are a lot of people in this sport that labor and sacrifice and build and work, and they just do it without the notoriety. We got a lot of winners in this sport. We got a lot of people who are doing a lot of good things in this sport. The fact that that you can get here is a good thing but you don't have to get here to be validated in any judgment.

Q. Patrick, did you see similar struggles in your team last year from what you called “unnecessary pressure” and when you didn't get back here to defend your title, was that disappointment harder than other years not making it here?

COACH MURPHY: Exactly what she said we went through last year, word for word. Jackie wasn't healthy, this year it was Lauren for them. She has had several injuries, but Jackie was 65 to 70%, 70% of the year. There was a lot of expectations, a lot of new kids. It was the perfect storm. We had a couple of injuries, a lot of new kids and we had just won the National Championship and it was too much for a lot of them to handle, probably including me, and we got to super regional and lost a 1run game to Tennessee and lost a 2run game and it was disappointing. But with what we had we overachieved, because Jackie was literally about 70%, and we still were within a couple of runs of coming back. She could have said the same thing for me that we went through last year.

Q. Coach, you talked about the growth that your kids have shown you earlier this year and I was wondering what Shelby Pendley has shown you in that regard with Lauren being out, having to pitch and last week laying down a big bunt for you which goes against her representation at the plate and seeing the growth from Shelby. How valuable has that been for you?

COACH GASSO: Tremendous. What has helped her get there is experience. She was a different player a year ago. On a national stage you will see athletes put unnecessary pressure on themselves because it is such a big stage. If you are dreaming about this your entire life and now you're in it, you're just like, bonkers, crazy, like I want to be so good and the harder you try to be great, the tougher it is to make happen. So it takes a special athlete to know how to settle in and allow pressure to go away and just get locked into what you're doing. It's tough. Especially as stakes get higher in this kind of a setting. Shelby has been one of the best athletes I've ever experienced. Her work ethic is phenomenal and the fact that she came to me and said “I pitch a little bit, I did in high school,” which was two years ago. Actually, her debut was against ULL and we were getting our clocks cleaned and I threw her in to hope we don't get “run ruled” and she saved us. From that moment on she became a reliable pitcher on our staff and this was  before I put her out there at Lafayette she was in the bullpen maybe twice and that's just a competitor, an athlete that will do anything she can to win.

I'm anxious for her this week because it's her second time around and I think she really didn't show herself very well, and allowed the expectations and the whole setting to get the best of her. Now she can settle in and get after it, but to me she is one of the best I've seen that can do about anything.

Q. Coach Lotief, I look at a freshman in Haley Hayden, you do a position change for her. Among the youth on this roster, what is her sort of settling in and getting you in that No. 2 meant for you, given the transitions that she had to go through before getting on to the field this spring?

COACH LOTIEF: I agree with what Coach just said. Hayden was the Gatorade Pitcher of the Year in our state. These kids are competitors, they're fierce. This is what they want to do. They dream to do this. For that kid, she has grown up here, made the trip here. Softball has been such a huge part of her life. To have the opportunity to do it on that level and now an opportunity to do it here is phenomenal. I don't think people understand, they don't care if you're a freshman or senior, it's your toughness, your mind set, your willingness to work and pay the price.

Last night, again, they showcased some of the outstanding freshmen in the country and now these kids are coming into our programs and they're more prepared than they've ever been all their lives. Not only softball wise but their knowledge of the game and their mental toughness. It's a great time to be involved with college softball, I think our sport is the in a great place.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody.

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