After missing out on playing in the NCAA Tournament by just one game, softball head coach Amy Hayes and her staff are already preparing for 2009 by putting the team through workouts and hitting the recruiting trail. The entire infield will return, as will several players who platooned in the outfield last season, including slugger Jackie Heide. However, the team loses star pitcher and designated player Mandy Hill to graduation, as well as pitcher Meghan Gendron and outfielder Shannon Stacy.
After missing out on playing in the NCAA Tournament by just one game, softball head coach Amy Hayes and her staff are already preparing for 2009 by putting the team through workouts and hitting the recruiting trail.
The entire infield will return, as will several players who platooned in the outfield last season, including slugger Jackie Heide. However, the team loses star pitcher and designated player Mandy Hill to graduation, as well as pitcher Meghan Gendron and outfielder Shannon Stacy.
Hayes has already identified some areas in which she would like to see improvement.
“I think our pitching needs to step up next year,” Hayes said. “I’d like to see a little more speed. We [didn’t] take nearly as many bases as I’d hoped.”
It is a unique challenge to coach in college athletics, where programs must continually be rebuilt. In Hayes’ case, she knew the challenges of running a team at an urban university long before she set foot in the South Park Blocks in 2005.
Hayes started her head coaching career with a four-year stint at Boston University, and when she took over, she thought recruiting athletes to play for the school would be a challenge given its status as a large, urban university.
However, when recruits saw all that the city of Boston had to offer, selling the school was simple.
“Once you get out and get into the city��-it was easy to recruit,” she said.
At Portland State, Hayes said it’s much the same. “The kids,” as she affectionately calls her players, come to Portland State for the city.
“When the kids visit in the fall, we try and get them downtown, on the trolley [Streetcar] and to Powell’s Books,” Hayes said. “It takes more of an independent person to come to PSU. I think the city gives our kids a good outlet.”
Teri Mariani coached the team for 29 years before retiring in 2005, and said that she faced many of the same challenges that Hayes must address. Mariani also said that while the city was a selling point, the Vikings’ off-campus stadium often proved to be a difficult sell.
“Having the practice and game facility so far away from campus makes it a tough job,” Mariani said, adding that driving to and from the Erv Lind Stadium eats into practice time. “It’s something you’re not going to overcome and that’s why I tried to not dwell on it with players.”
Despite the lack of on-campus facilities, in 2006 Hayes led the team to a 38-20 record, a Pacific Coast Softball Conference Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. And it was just her first season at the helm.
Even after the team’s tourney appearance, Hayes found that many potential recruits failed to realize some of Portland State’s features, including on-campus housing and dining halls.
“Once they get here they realize how much Portland State has to offer,” she said. “We don’t want someone the University of Oregon and Oregon State turned down. We want kids that want to come to PSU.”
The program also values local talent.
“It’s extremely important,” Hayes said. “I just like the fact their parents can see them play. I feel like a lot of Northwest kids felt they had to go out of state.”
Stacy was one of those kids who wanted to be a Viking. Mariani recruited her and she’s been an important part of the team.
“It [PSU] was close to home,” Stacy said. “I liked the girls on the team. It just felt like a good fit.”
Hayes calls Stacy one of the team’s model citizens and a true “student-athlete.” For Stacy, a Eugene, Ore., native, establishing a deeper connection to the community seems only natural.
“We have a big responsibility to the community that has hosted us,” Stacy said. “Becoming more invested with the community is what PSU is all about.”
In fact, just two of the team’s 16 scholarship athletes are from a state other than Oregon or Washington: freshman pitcher Nicole Latham and sophomore catcher Brandi Scoggins, both from California.
There are other advantages to luring in-state athletes to Portland State. A major benefit is stretching the program’s scholarship dollars further. It was an issue Mariani struggled with during her years as head coach.
“You’re going to have to get people who wanted to be here for the school, who academically might be able to get academic awards,” Mariani said. “We weren’t able to match the athletic scholarships some other schools could offer. We tried to sell the city. You have to be creative sometimes.”
This year, the softball team had $174,000 available for scholarships that Hayes has the discretion to distribute how she sees fit. The team spent $38,800 on in-state tuition for seven players in 2007-08, or roughly $5,542 per athlete.
Out-of-state athletes were allocated $65,200, or about $7,244 for each of the nine players who reside outside of Oregon. The rest of the money, roughly $70,000, goes toward boarding and other expenses.
These numbers are only averages. Each player’s compensation package is determined by Hayes and varies depending on the individual.
The 13 players returning are a talented bunch, maybe talented enough to propel the Vikings toward Hayes’ goal of, “going to regionals every year.” In her mind, the team is just a few pieces–a pitcher here, some more power there–away from executing that goal.
“We want to recruit the best athletes possible, but they’re going to have to wear more than one hat,” Hayes said. “I think we have a great product here. I think we can create a real family atmosphere.”