Beginning of a new era

After losing their head coach and star player from last season’s roster, the softball team has experienced an unusual amount of change during the offseason.

After losing their head coach and star player from last season’s roster, the softball team has experienced an unusual amount of change during the offseason.

Regardless of the new face manning the helm, the softball team seems poised for a breakout season under their first-year head coach, Tobin Echo-Hawk, and will look to improve upon last year’s 31-27 season record, their best since moving to Division I competition.

Although this is her first year as head coach at Portland State, Echo-Hawk has plenty of playing and coaching experience in softball, which has made the transition for her even easier.

“From being a player and coach before my time here at Portland State, it is definitely an advantage because we are able to understand what the players are going through,” Echo-Hawk said. “Having the staff that I have with their previous experience, one of them having national experience, helps respect us even more I believe.”

Echo-Hawk had a stellar college career at Nebraska, where she became a four-time Big XII All-Conference selected third baseman. She set single season records for the Cornhuskers in batting average, doubles and runs scored while also cementing her name in Nebraska softball history as the all-time leader in hits and doubles.

Her performance on the diamond was rewarded with two All-American second team recognitions and helped her land a spot as an assistant coach at Nebraska following her playing career.

Her responsibilities included scouting opponents and serving as the bench coach during games, experiences that she feels will definitely help her as she leads the Vikings this season.

“It was vital for me to see how the coaching staff dealt with everyday things, like meetings and how they communicated with the staff and administration,” Echo-Hawk said. “Having that experience has helped me see the other side of things.”

After her time as an assistant coach, Echo-Hawk chose to continue her playing career in the Women’s Professional Softball League, earning All-Star honors in 1999 and 2000 when she played for the Akron Racers.

Her playing career was not limited to the United States as the third basemen spent time playing in Italy, where she won the Italian League’s MVP in 2002.

From there, she continued her playing career. In a three-year span, from 1998–2000, Echo-Hawk played in the Women’s Professional Softball League for the Akron Racers of Akron, Ohio.

After several seasons in Ohio, which included two WPSL All-Star honors in 1999 and 2000, she went overseas for three seasons with the Rhea Vendors in the Italian League where she won league’s MVP in 2002 before returning to her high school alma mater in Colorado for some additional coaching experience.

Though the miles traveled have been many and the final goal has not always been clear, Echo-Hawk said one person always buoyed her up.

“My dad was always my coach, pushing me to be what I wanted to be,” Echo-Hawk said. “So I try to be like him in that sense with these players in any aspect with life, not just with softball.”

She arrived in the South Park Blocks in 2007 and has used her vast playing and coaching experience to help her reach out to her players as the beginning of the softball season looms.

“Coach has brought in knowledge and experience of the game to our team that no other coach has before,” said Nicole Latham a sophomore pitcher expected to contribute heavily in the Vikings’ rotation this year.

Latham is part of a squad that returns most of its firepower from last season, with the exception of former standout pitcher and slugger Mandy Hill.

“Nicole is looking really good, and our hitters are looking better than I have ever seen them before,” Echo-Hawk explained.

This year, the team will include senior first baseman Jana Rae Slayton, who led the team in hitting last year, and senior centerfielder Jackie Heide, who earned All-Conference honors last season.

The transition to Echo-Hawk’s coaching style will come under pressure, as the team will have to endure a new challenge in the first weekend of the season when they play last year’s national champion, Arizona State.

The squad has been picked to finish fourth in the six-team Pacific Coast Softball Conference, the same finish that the team had last season.

“If anything, the rankings mean nothing and it only fuels our fire even more as a team, because we are such a close and tight-knit group already,” Echo-Hawk said.