Oct. 7, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Coming off its first losing season in more than a decade, the departure of its head coach and the graduation of its ace on the mound, Georgia Tech Softball may need to take baby steps in getting back to the top of the ACC, where it stood only two seasons ago.
Fortunately for the Yellow Jackets, by the time their season begins, new head coach Shelly Hoerner will know all about baby steps.
In fact, she’ll know just about everything baby, as she and husband, Jeff, are expecting their first child in November.
“Sometimes I think, `Am I crazy or just plain stupid right now?'” said Hoerner, who was hired as the fifth head coach in program history on June 21. “But I believe that everything happens for a reason. The timing couldn’t have been better. We’re finished with the Fall and that’s time to kind of recoup and get going in January,”. My husband (a renowned soccer coach) will be a stay-at-home dad. So that’s going to be very helpful. He’ll be our biggest supporter and our daughter will as well.
“The administration has just been wonderful, very supportive of me. [Athletic Director] Mike [Bobinski] and [Associate Director of Athletics – SWA] Theresa [Wenzel] have been great and that’s been awesome,” she added. “I’m very excited, obviously, family comes first and it’s a new chapter, but I’m a competitor. I love to coach, I love to be out there. The few times that I haven’t been able to be out there has been difficult for me but I know things happen for a reason and the assistants will take care of the job.”
Hoerner has a similar confidence in her players taking care of their job on the field. The team reinforced its coach’s confidence with a double-header sweep of North Georgia (6-4) and home-standing Kennesaw State (4-2) on Sunday at KSU’s Bailey Park.
It was a nice first impression and matched the kind of first impression Hoerner experienced meeting her players for the first time. The team has actually exceeded her expectations and their reputation.
“People said they were good people,” said Hoerner, who coached the previous eight seasons at College of Charleston and admitted that she didn’t know much more about Tech’s roster than that 2013 ACC Player of the Year Ashley Thomas was on it. “They are GREAT people. They’ve been very supportive of me and my whole staff and that has made the transition a lot easier. [The players] are such hard-working individuals. They want to play hard, they want to win and they want to have fun. It’s been great to see. Since we started on just individuals and team practice, we’ve seen an increase in everything, their excitability, their talent to just some getting better as players. That’s a testament to their hard work and buying into our program.”
In addition to Thomas, the Jackets bring back a solid base upon which to build with the senior class, including two-time First-Team All-ACC catcher/3B Alysha Rudnik and center fielder Hayley Downs. Those building blocks of the 2013-14 have already made an impact.
“Between Hayley, Ashley and `Rud,’ they just take control. That’s important and it’s neat to see in practice,” Hoerner said. “Everyone’s obviously learning, even the seniors, how to do things OUR way. That’s been a little bit of a challenge but they’re buying in.”
Another reason for excitement and anticipation is the pitching staff buying in to the preachings of new pitching coach Charlotte Morgan. Morgan, who starred at Alabama and played for four years for National Pro Fastpitch actually threw a no-hitter against Tech on April 22, 2009, at Mewborn Field.
“Charlotte has brought a mental game already to the pitching staff,” said Hoerner. “She has brought the winning mentality, the tough mentality. Obviously, they weren’t very successful on the mound and now we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to be successful. There is talent in the returning pitchers and there is obviously talent in the freshmen in [Kanani Cabrales].
“Just how Charlotte interacts with the pitchers has just made a difference,” Hoerner added. “Kylie Kleinschmidt, who is a junior, has not seen much time the last two years and right now, we’re looking at her to be our No. 1. She has just done a phenomenal job in practice thus far. So they are learning from Coach Morgan what it takes to be a winner through the tough times and I believe they are going to be more successful. It’s going to be tough. You’ve got to have some tough times in order to be successful. She knows when to be tough on them, when to ease up on them and she communicates very well with them.”
Another positive for is that there is no shortage of leaders on the squad, and not just seniors.
“Leadership is so important, especially when there is a change in coaching staffs,” Hoerner said. “I think the leadership on the team is really what has held this team together and has helped the transition become so much easier for them.
“Everyone’s obviously learning, even the seniors, how to do things OUR way,” she added. “That’s been a little bit of a challenge but they’re buying in so when things are new it’s a little more difficult, but like I said, they have worked extremely hard. There’s leadership throughout the entire team, which is neat to see, too — even with the freshmen. I would say at every class there’s a lot of leadership, which is going to help our team become even more successful as a team on the field.”
The Yellow Jackets’ fall slate will see them play double-headers at Mewborn Field each of the next three Sundays, starting this weekend against Georgia Gwinnett College (1:00 and 3:00). Samford comes in on the 20th (4:00 and 6:00) and the fall practice season concludes with Georgia at 2:00 and 4:00).
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