The Monarch softball team won just four games in 2016 and has put up a 68-110-1 (.380 win percentage) record over the past eight seasons. So far in 2017, the Coyotes are 1-2, having won the season opener 12-1 over Liberty, lost 19-0 to Pomona and fallen 12-10 to Green Mountain on Tuesday.
This fall, the Coyotes will be led by a new head coach in Beth Wilson. After graduating five seniors in the spring, with a new voice to follow, and without a single senior on the roster, the Coyotes are in full-blown rebuild mode and focused on setting themselves up for future success.
I caught up with Wilson on Tuesday night to check in on where she feels the team stands after her first three games as head coach and where she thinks the program is headed.
Question: The Monarch softball team hasn't had a winning season in a long time. What is the main focus for you guys this season and what is it going to take to turn things around?
Wilson: For me, my focus is mostly on mental things. Part of what I walked into here with this team was a lot of previous coaches' abuse. These girls are in their heads a lot. They're good athletes, but they're in their heads. It's my job to help build them back up and teach them to handle certain situations so they can be the players I know them to be.
A lot of pressure has been put on these girls that it all hinges on their shoulders, individually, and not together as a team. We're working on approaching this as a team sport and embracing the idea that it doesn't rest on any one person's shoulders.
Of course, creating a winning culture and attitude is important when rebuilding a program. But in plain terms of wins and losses, what would you consider a successful season in 2017?
Ideally, I'd like to have a .500 season. I think these girls are even capable of a lot better than that. But, again, the mental hurdles we're trying to overcome are substantial. That would be a big jump from last year but I have a ton of faith in these girls that they can at least win more games than they did last year.
In this rebuilding scenario, junior Payton Thomas (.600, 2 HR, 7 RBI) seems like the type of player a program can build around. What can you tell me about Thomas and what she brings to the table?
Payton Thomas and Ainslee Reece have been voted our team captains. The girls see them as two players to look to and center our team around. One of the things I love about Payton is that she stays engaged. As a pitcher, she sees everything and she really pushes her teammates to stay in the game and in good mental spaces. As a leader, she talks about what she wants on the field and how the team needs to come together and I definitely give her free reign to say whatever she feels. As a pitcher and a leader, she wears a lot on her own shoulders and we're working on providing her support because we all see her as a captain and an example.
Ainslee is also just all-in all the time and anything that I've asked of her, she has really done with a lot of excitement and support. Ainslee is another natural-born leader. They're both talented, natural athletes so I don't ever worry about those two.
So far in 2017, you've had a blowout victory, a lopsided loss and a close defeat in which you were up but lost the lead late in the game. What are your thoughts on the season so far? What has your team done well and what specific areas for improvement have you identified through three games?
What these girls do well is when they show up, they stay present. We have some upperclassmen who are very vocal and keep the girls in the game. When they're on, they're on. What I've seen happen, though, is that when we're off, we're really off. When something bad happens, it's hard for us to get out of that.
We've had some errors and when they happen, these girls are still learning to come back from it. They get frazzled really easily. In some ways, it's just going to take time and repetition with a new system and a new coach to get that consistency. We need to find ways to connect with each other to develop that mental focus that will allow us to move on from our mistakes and try to be better in the next game.
As a new coach in the BoCoPreps.com area, could you please give me an idea of your coaching background and resume? And what drew you to the Monarch job?
My coaching experience is pretty limited, really. This is my first time being a head coach. I was assistant coach at Lafayette High School in Kentucky. This was a leap of faith for me to move and step up into this role. But when I talked to the people here, what I heard was that this school wanted someone who could build up this program, build up these girls and help them learn to love the game again. I heard that and I said, 'I'm your girl.'