SOUTHFIELD, Mich.- The Lawrence Technological (Mich.) University softball team will kick off their 2019 season at the Reinhardt Invitational on February 16-17 in Waleska, Ga. The Blue Devils will face off with West Virginia Institute of Technology and Brenau (Ga.) University on Saturday, February 16 at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. respectively. On Sunday, February 17, LTU will play against Reinhardt (Ga.) University and Indiana University-Southeast at 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Lawrence Tech caught up with head coach Karen Baird to talk about the upcoming season. Here is what she had to say about 2019:
Last year was a very good season for LTU since it was the year the team has had the best record in program's history (22-18). How are you getting prepared to exceed those expectations this year? Are you doing anything different in comparison to previous years?
Being the third year of the program, it is phenomenal for us to be where we are in the early stages of building a program from scratch. It just demonstrates how hard the girls have been working. As far as what we are doing to prepare, we are doing similar things to what we did last year. One of the things we talk about a lot is the team and how important it is to support each other. I feel that our team has very good chemistry, they are supportive of each other and I think that is shown by the trust and communication on the field, this is something very important in this program. We are not really doing anything different, we are just making sure that our experience helps us for this year. Our expectation is to go back to that WHAC Championship game and win it this year. We have a lot of great returners. We have the pitching, the defense, and definitely have the hitting.
How is your current team different from last year's?
We have a lot more experience. The players in our junior class are phenomenal leaders, they understand what it takes to get to the WHAC tournament. Last year, they got a glimpse of what it is to be in the national spotlight because we played some great teams that went to regionals and nationals. They have been working a lot harder, they came in great shape in the fall. They are very driven this year and has been fun to watch them develop from the fall season to now. I was telling one of our coaches, I sit back this year and watch them in action compared to last year. This year they are coaching themselves, they have taken over and embraced holding each other accountable and making it their own team.
This is your second year as head coach of this program and you made it to the WHAC Championship game last season. What is your coaching philosophy or what do you teach your players? Do you have an inspirational quote you give your players before every game?
We have hashtags, we talk a lot about #MUDITA, which is basically I want as much success from you as if I had done it, so I will be the first one off the bench cheering for you. This would be the motto that we really stand for. Our other hashtag is #GoTheDistance as the players really want to go beyond the WHAC Championship, they want to go to regionals and nationals. I think that if they just have that mindset, it helps them to not just come to practice but they understand "this is what we want, so we have to work harder every day". We do "thoughts of the day" per practice, the players come up with a thought of the day and "this is what we are looking for from the team today".
What would you consider to be your team's strongest suit?
I would say team chemistry. So in the office, we have a Legacy wall in which the players write down what they want to leave behind for the next group/players. "We rise by lifting others" that one is Katie Kubiak's (JR/Burlington, Wisc.) quote. The players think a lot about the team and what they want to give back to the program. I think that is really important for the continued growth of the program and future players to understand the expectations when you play for LTU softball. Our experience and leadership which help take this program to the next level this year and look forward to our players stepping up.
How is each of the part of the team coming together? Are you ready to start the season next week?
We still have some practices before we play in our first games but we put together a game plan of what we want to look like after five, six and seven weeks of practices. We are building up our pitching to be ready to pitch a full game. We are working hard on our short game and defense too. Hitting is probably where we have to get a little more into because we had a couple of practices this week in alternative places because of classes being canceled, such as the gym instead of our normal place. We are really working hard on our base-running. We are very aggressive as far as on the base path and we are going to try to take advantage of mistakes the other team may make on defense. You know, sometimes we will be thrown out, it is part of the game and is a risk we will take.
How would you describe the competitive level of the teams you are playing against this season in comparison to the ones you played on previous seasons?
We are playing a schedule that is very tough, it is going to be one that will definitely prepare us for the WHAC. In our pre-season, we are going down to Georgia, Reinhardt has always been a very good team. I honestly do not know a lot about West Virginia Tech, I think they are a young program like us. It will be a very competitive opening weekend. We have a weekend in Kentucky before we head off to our 14 spring training games in Florida. We will see us develop with almost 20 games under our belt before we start conference play which will be better for our team. We will play Rio Grande (Ohio) University before we start WHACs, they are traditionally a very good team and I think that is a perfect way to see where the team is at that point in the season.
Women's Softball did an excellent job last semester in the classroom. In fact, your players had an amazing GPA of 3.50, which was the fifth highest of LTU's athletic teams. How do your players balance school, games, workouts, and practice?
First of all, I am extremely proud of them. Last year I think we had a 3.3 GPA so to go to 3.5 as a team is just phenomenal. You are a here to be a student, you are a student first and the athlete is the bonus part. We have practices and weights in the morning, and then they have the rest of the day to attend class, study and get their AAC hours done. It takes a lot of planning and self-discipline to be a student-athlete, especially at LTU with the tough academic setting.