January 19, 2013 11:07:02 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University assistant softball coach Alan Reach summed up the cornerstone of the MSU softball program succinctly Friday.
"It starts with Vann Stuedeman," Reach said. "She is the most detailed person I have ever met. She came here with a plan. She has a plan for everything she does in her life. We are working that plan. It is amazing to see how far we have come and where we are headed."
Stuedeman will begin her second season as MSU softball coach Feb. 7 when the Bulldogs play host to the University of South Alabama. Stuedeman and the team addressed the media Friday at MSU Softball Media Day in the Palmeiro Center.
With the growing pains of a coaching transition in the past, players and coaches are excited about the season.
"Now all of the returning players can be coaches," MSU senior pitcher Stephanie Becker said. "Our confidence was way down last season. The coaches came here and really believed in us. It took some time to get everything going. Coach Vann taught me about confidence. She taught me how to believe in each pitch I have."
Shortly after taking the job, Stuedeman talked about building from the ground up. She talked about the mental aspects of the game. The blueprint involved team bonding and creating a belief in one another. Four or five months were spent on the mental aspect of the game, leaving the team little time to prepare for the physical aspects of the season.
"We have never worked that hard," MSU senior outfielder Jessica Cooley said. "We did so many things as a team, learning how to work together, learning how to become a team. Our motto was to win the late innings. The game is so much mental. Coach Vann came here from the beginning wanting to change attitudes. The players bought in and that is why we had success."
MSU finished 33-24 (12-16 in the Southeastern Conference) and returned to postseason play for the first time in three years. Even though the postseason run was short-lived (two losses in the Oregon Regional), the seeds were sown.
"The difference from last year to this year is like night and day," Reach said. "All of the things we had to teach last year we don't have to teach this year. Instead of coaches learning one another, they know each other. Instead of players learning coaches and vice versa, they already know one another. We are so far ahead of where we were a year ago at this time.
"When the fall started, we were able to hit the ground running. Everybody had already bought in and knew the expectation. When you have success, that helps the kids believe."
MSU should have weapons to build on 2012. Cooley returns after hitting a team-best 15 home runs last season. This season, she will have added punch with the addition of University of North Carolina transfer Logan Foulks, who earned her eligibility last week. Foulks finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a .596 slugging percentage as a sophomore in 2012. An infielder and catcher, Foulks hit .302 last season and has 16 career home runs in two seasons.
"From the first time I visited, this is a place where I knew I would love to play," Foulks said. "Starkville is a lot like my hometown. The coaches and players have taken me from the beginning. Everything is organized and you can tell this program has a vision. I am excited about being a part of that and playing with my new team."
In the circle, right-hander Alison Owen, a transfer from the University of Georgia, also is eligible. Becker also returns after logging a team-best 182 2/3 innings last season. Stuedeman feels this season's pitching staff will be deep, with as many as six seeing quality playing time.
"The groundwork was laid last season," Stuedeman said. "No one will ever say it was easy, either. I rely on my friends who are other head coaches for advice all the time. They tell me the second year is the hardest. It is hard to imagine anything would be harder than last season.
"However, we got there. We got everything in place to be a successful program. Now the expectation levels go up. Each day, you have to be better than you were the day before. The players know what is expected. We are working hard to get to that next level. We accomplished so much last year. Now, it is all about doing even more than that."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter