Lantern file photo
New coach, no problem. Despite being saddled with the difficult task of replacing a program legend, first-year Ohio State coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly is embracing her new role at the helm of the Buckeyes softball team.
Prior to Schoenly’s arrival from Miami (Ohio), OSU had been under the direction of former coach Linda Kalafatis, who compiled 538 wins and six NCAA Tournament appearances in her 16 seasons leading the Buckeyes. Kalafatis was let go in May after OSU declined to renew her contract.
“I have a ton of respect for (Kalafatis) and the coaching staffs she’s brought to the program through the years,” Schoenly said. “We constantly tell the girls she’s part of our tradition … She’s a great coaching legend for the Ohio State softball program and I’m proud to follow in her footsteps.”
While replacing a program stalwart is difficult enough, trying to get 21 players, 17 of whom played under the previous regime, to buy into a new coach’s identity can be equally challenging.
“Every group of girls is going to have its own mentality,” Schoenly said. “So you just want to embrace the personalities in the group that you have. I’m not trying to change them, you have to find the strength in each kid and let it come out.”
With wins against three ranked opponents (No. 8 Georgia, No. 16 Louisville and No. 14 Arizona), Schoenly’s Buckeyes are off to a hot start at 9-6.
“I think the team has responded great,” said senior third baseman Megan Coletta. “It was a fresh start for everyone and the (new) coaches made it really easy with how they were open to us and very friendly with us.”
Coletta said there haven’t been any issues with the new staff so far and that everything is going smoothly in the early season.
“All of our new coaches are really energetic and lively,” said freshman utility fielder Cammi Prantl. “The team’s feeding off their energy and creating our own energy. I think everyone likes the positive environment.”
During the transitional period after Kalafatis’ departure and Schoenly’s arrival, the team’s four seniors led off-season workouts to keep the women on the same page and to welcome the incoming freshmen to a coachless environment. “It’s not like we’re just freshmen to them,” Prantl said. “We’ve been included in the group the whole time.”
The summer workouts paid dividends for the team’s eventual bonding once Schoenly was named coach.
“This summer when there wasn’t a coach at all, the seniors were really involved with keeping the freshmen active,” Schoenly said. “(The seniors) were like little assistant coaches before we arrived, just keeping the freshmen on track and wanting to be here.”
With the Big Ten season looming after OSU’s spring break, Schoenly said the real test begins once her team starts conference play against Indiana on March 22. Each day the OSU softball team spends together, they get closer and more familiar with the ways of their new head coach.
The team knows the growing pains they suffer now will help them better prepare for the grind of conference play.
“The adjustment is having to get to know all 21 (players),” Schoenly said. “You have to find out which buttons to push for which kids, and that takes some time to learn … My goal is to find out which kids fit what roles and to put them in positions to have success.”
OSU is next scheduled to take on Maryland on Saturday at 1 p.m. in College Park, Md.