August 18, 2011 10:56:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Vann Stuedeman is accustomed to whirlwinds.
When you''re a coach who prefers hugs over handshakes and you can energize a room when you walk in, it''s easy to see why Stuedeman has felt comfortable in her new job as Mississippi State softball coach.
Since she was hired June 23 to replace Jay Miller, Stuedeman has spent much of the past month and a half on the road recruiting and evaluating players and selling the MSU program.
In those 55 days, Stuedeman has been to seven states to watch softball, to showcase her vibrant style, and to tell anyone and everyone about the vision of MSU athletics.
"It has been a fun whirlwind," said Stuedeman, who just had cable television installed Wednesday at her home. "We were in Mississippi twice, California twice, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Fla., Chattanooga, Chicago, and Memphis. "We have had very little time in Starkville. Everyone asks me, ''How do you like Starkville?'' It is great. I am never there. I don''t know anything about it."
Stuedeman will get to know the area and the people because her personality lights up a room. She is excited to have an opportunity to compete in the Southeastern Conference, which has established itself as one of the nation''s best. She also is eager to install a "rock-like" work ethic and a mind-set that will be able to withstand anything that comes its way.
The "rock" in that attitude comes from a conversation she had with her players Tuesday at a team meeting. Her goal is to ensure the Bulldogs are "rocks" for each other and aren''t marshmallows or jelly beans that succumb to adversity.
That message has been part of the sales pitch Stuedeman has used to inform players and parents about MSU. She said there are stereotypes about the South and about MSU that she and her assistant coaches know they can shatter. She said two players from the Class of 2013 have been on campus, another will visit next week, three more are coming the weekend of MSU''s first home football game, and four more will come the weekend of MSU''s second home football game.
"We''re bringing them in left and right," Stuedeman said. "That''s all we can do. Even if they don''t choose us, they''re going to go off and say, ''How great it was, how awesome the school was, how awesome the people are, and how awesome softball is going to be at Mississippi State."
Stuedeman served as pitching coach at the University of Alabama for the past 11 seasons. She helped the Crimson Tide reach the Women''s College World Series six times and win three SEC regular-season titles. She also worked with 10 pitchers who earned All-America honors in the past seven seasons
Stuedeman also coached at the University of West Alabama, Alabama-Huntsville, and East Limestone High School. A native of Birmingham, Ala., she graduated from Huntingdon College, where she was an All-American pitcher during her four-year career, in 1994.
On June 23, Stuedeman announced the hiring of Alan Reach, a former assistant coach at the University of Georgia and head coach at Tuscaloosa County High. Last month, Stuedeman completed her coaching staff when she hired Beth Mullins, who worked as an assistant coach at Western Kentucky, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Georgia Southern.
Reach and Mullins also have stayed busy. In addition to travel for recruiting, the coaches went to New York to work with a hitting coach.
In October, Stuedeman and the Lady Bulldogs will travel to Flora, Meridian, and Tupelo to play games and to hold clinics for players and coaches. The team will give away T-shirts to those who attend the clinics, and individuals who wear those T-shirts to MSU''s games against Southern Mississippi on Oct. 22 in Starkville will get a chance to share a picnic with the team after the action.
The trips and the picnic are just a few ways Stuedeman and her coaches are trying to generate enthusiasm and to sell a program that went 24-32 this past season and has missed the NCAA tournament the past two seasons.
Stuedeman said it hasn''t been hard to get people to come to MSU. She said her time at Alabama might have increased her name recognition, but she said she is only part of the package she hopes to sell players. She said the vision of MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin and the fact the school is in the SEC are points she can use to attract players from the state, region, or the rest of the country.
"It has just been electric," Stuedeman said. "Everywhere I have been, the travel ball coaches (and) the college coaches have been seeking me out. I have been coaching softball for 17 years and my phone hasn''t stopped ringing. Keep calling me. I want my phone to ring. I want people to be interested. People are great. It is so good to see people are so excited about Mississippi State softball. It has been awesome."
The key for Stuedeman will be to translate that vision, energy, and enthusiasm into success on the field. She said pieces are in place for the program to get to the SEC tournament and the NCAA tournament. She said the program has overhauled everything and won''t continue to do things the way they have been done in the past. She also is confident the players will be receptive to change and will be ready for everything she and her assistant coaches will throw at them.
"I want to teach them that every time we go out to play it matters," Stuedeman said. "There are a ton of people who want to wear the Mississippi State jersey. If they''re not going to make it a priority, somebody else will. We just challenged them to recognize that. A lot of things have changed, but the No. 1 thing that needs to change is what they''re doing. They have to grasp onto what we''re telling them. They have to jump into our canoe, and everybody in the canoe has to row at the same time."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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