Last season’s TWU softball team was rich in experience, as was evident during its march to the Division II national tournament. On Thursday, the Pioneers added to their wealth when they hired former Central Oklahoma coach Genny Stidham, who led the Bronchos to victory in that tournament, as their new head coach.
Stidham spent 16 years as the head coach at UCO, compiling a record of 475-289-2. She guided the Bronchos to the national tournament in 2006 and 2012 before winning UCO’s first national title in 2013, when they won their last nine games to finish the season 51-11.
“You feel like you’ve been validated,” Stidham said of winning the championship in May. “All the hard work, you have something to show for that. Anybody can win. You have to have skill and you have to have practice. It’s about dealing with the pressure and keeping those nerves in check. If you can keep those outside things out, that’s how you win a national championship.”
The Pioneers may have suffered from a case of nerves on the national stage, but they are returning key players from a team that went a school-best 51-14 and claimed its first NCAA South Central Region championship, Lone Star Conference regular-season title and LSC tournament crown.
“We have some great momentum coming off the year we just had,” TWU athletic director Chalese Connors said. “Having Genny at the helm here at TWU is a perfect fit. Plus, she’s back in the Lone Star Conference to face familiar foes. I’m excited for our student-athletes, our recruits, our alums and our fans.”
Stidham, who won LSC titles in 1998 and 2005 at UCO, was aware of the offensive threat the Pioneers posed, and in late May she had a feeling about the prospect of facing TWU in the tournament.
“I felt in my gut that things would be really good if we didn’t have to face TWU,” Stidham said. “I knew they were a strong opponent. Sometimes in softball, the better team doesn’t come out on top. There is so much talent [at TWU]. When you get a chance to see that talent as a coach, it makes you so excited.”
The Pioneers will have All-Americans Bailey Vrazel and Katie Hines back for their senior seasons, and with junior Kendra Sancet poised for another productive campaign, Stidham anticipates an offensively focused attack.
“I spend a lot of time pitching a lot of batting practice, so we will hit, slap and bunt,” Stidham said. “They will get a lot of live-game action. I do believe you have to score runs. You have to do that with speed and base hits. Probably the first week they’ll have blisters on their hands.
“I’m an ex-pitcher, so I usually spend a lot of time with our pitchers on a one-on-one basis. I think they are going to get a lot of hands-on interaction. I don’t coach from the side; I coach within.”
Less than a month ago, former TWU head coach Richie Bruister left to start a softball program at Texas A&M-Commerce after helping the Pioneers to their first NCAA championship tournament.
Stidham is fresh off winning the Division II Coaching Staff of the Year honor along with her former assistant at UCO.
It was a difficult decision for Stidham to leave her alma mater for TWU, but she is looking forward to the challenge and a change of scenery.
“It’s definitely scary, but it’s exciting,” Stidham said. “I’m originally from the Mesquite area, and my husband has relatives in that area. I felt like I needed a change. After being somewhere for 16 years, I think it’s good to have that change. It will be a new adventure for my family, and I’m going to try to build on this program.”
When sizing up TWU after her interview with Connors, Stidham said, she couldn’t find a way to be pessimistic.
“I think TWU has a great deal to offer their female athletes,” Stidham said. “The field is second to none. It’s outstanding and beautiful. The facilities are a big draw. The fact that there are only 91 athletes, you know they are going to get treated well. There wasn’t anything negative I could say about TWU after I left from my interview.”
Stidham attended a TWU softball camp in 1979, the year the Pioneers won the Women’s College World Series, and that sparked her pursuit of a softball career. Stidham said Donna Terry, TWU’s coach at the time, had a significant impact on her drive toward coaching.
“Donna Terry was great,” Stidham said. “She opened my eyes to the game of softball. I loved the game of softball, but once I went to the camp, it brought on a whole new world.
“In elementary school, I would tell people I wanted to be a softball coach. It didn’t make my parents very proud, but I wanted to do what I loved. After I played, I have been able to coach and I still love it. Now I get to meet new people and give back to Texas.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.