Weekly Coach Rodolph Interview :: 02/26/13 Playing a lot of these early season tournaments and then playing midweek games you don't get a lot of chance to get practice time in. What will you work on with the team over the next couple days of practice?
Kathy Rodolph: Being able to get back and being able to work on defensive coverages and defensive sets for different scenarios -- power lefty versus a slapper, power righty and being able to work on angles. One of the things I noticed is we haven't been able to have BP so every swing the kids take, there's a consequence and sometimes you need BP just to be able to get back in rhythm. Also, being able to work with the pitchers in the pen on things that have been going well or on things that we want to tweak. It's just been really nice to have practice time and to be able to focus on what you've learned that you might need to sharpen up from a game scenario. From a defensive standpoint breaking in a few new players and the overall youth of the team, how has the communication been amongst the defenders?
KR: I feel like it's been very strong at times and other times maybe not as good because of lack of experience. With Kristi and Tehani and Teresa, they have been kind of used to playing together but because Kristi and Tehani were out this fall we had different middles that actually practiced all fall. Even though those guys were here last year when they got hurt, then they were gone, it's almost like starting all over. What are you overall thoughts on your team after a couple of tournaments, a couple midweek games and this past weekend at UTEP?
KR: We have a lot of potential and we have a lot of kids that contribute. Working to get better under pressure and being able to stick to a game plan when the pressure is on. I feel like we've done a pretty good job of being able to stop big rallies but there's been a couple of games where we've allowed somebody to capture the pressure and not been able to stop it and get it back. I feel like we're at our best when we play aggressive and not on our heels so we're really trying to use the preseason to do that, to play confident, stick to a game plan, not get on our heels and I would say we've done it more than we haven't but we still have a ways to go. Down at UTEP this past weekend was your first road trip although it's not like a true road trip where you get on a plane and travel somewhere but what did you see from your team in their first experience playing away from home this season?
KR: UTEP has a beautiful facility but it's just different than ours. They have a complete turf field where we have our infield mixture and so the ball bounces different on turf and we challenged the kids to go in to a new environment and adapt and not really let it phase them and I feel like they did a good job of it. Single cages to hit in, we're used to a lot of room. We're used to our cages and just getting into a routine pregame so it was nice to see that they had to adapt and it didn't seem to phase us much. We've played in rain, we've played in wind so far and I like the reaction that the kids have. They don't seem to let mother nature and outside things affect them a lot. What's been your evaluation of your pitching so far? It seems to have been really solid in some spots and a little shaky in some spots.
KR: Alex is doing a great job for us. Karysta had some tendonitis in the fall so I'm being real careful with her in the spring but at the same time by Karysta not quite throwing as much as she might have normally thrown it's opened up the door for my freshman Makayla McAdams to get some more time as well as Celisha Walker. It's definitely going to take the entire staff to be able to hold our own in the conference and by having four pitchers who can all give different looks, it's going to turn out to be a tremendous strength down the stretch. Makayla has gotten quite a bit of experience and playing time early, how has that helped with her growth and maybe accelerated her maturing on the field?
KR: From her first opportunity to go in to now, I feel like she's gotten better with every opportunity she's been given. She's starting to welcome the opportunity to start or go in and close and the game doesn't seem to be as overwhelming to her. The experience she's gotten by the time we get to conference is really going to pay off. Teresa Conrad was named the WAC Hitter of the Week this week and it's a little surprising that it's her first weekly WAC honor. She's one of those players that seems to fly under the conference radar a little bit but is really a pretty tremendous talent.
KR: By being so young we're really relying on our seniors to step up and Teresa's done that. Cat has asked her to be in the middle of the lineup and be able to do multiple things, in RBI situations, hit behind runners, have the power hit when she needs and Teresa's been working really hard and it's nice to see that hard work pay off. Going back to her freshman year she played quite a bit but wasn't a huge factor offensively, I think she hit right around .200. For her to now be in that position where you're counting on her to drive in runs and be an RBI hitter, how much growth has she shown over the four years?
KR: Obviously anybody that's watched us knows that Cat's had some phenomenal hitters that she's been able to develop here. Our senior group benefitted by some of the really strong hitters that came before them, talking about their mental approach, their game plan at the plate and kind of the things that made them great hitters. Teresa has embraced that and is really working on staying with a game plan and taking what the game gives her. As a senior you hope that the experience will pay off and help to keep them calm in the moment when the pressure is really, really high. I feel like the upperclassmen have done a really good job of going with the flow of the game. Some of the younger ones have been kind of riding the roller coaster of maybe pressing sometimes when they don't need to but I think that comes with experience. One thing it seems like your team seems to be able to do is bounce back quickly. You had the 10-9 loss to Colorado State but you come back the next day and beat them 9-2. You have the back-to-back tough losses to Texas Tech and UNM but you come back this weekend and win three straight.
KR: Cat and I both agree that this team has been a lot of fun to coach because they really, really work hard. I feel like you can go in and say, "This is where we fell a little bit short and this is what we can do to take care of it but no matter what we have to get back into an attacking mindset" and I feel like they absolutely embrace it. They come to practice every day trying to get better and I think that's probably one of the reasons they've been so fun to coach is because of how hard they work. When you work that hard everyday it's almost like putting into a savings account for yourself so that when it comes game time and you need to pull out of that savings to help you, you have something in the tank. I feel like this group, every challenge that we've given them throughout the whole year dating all the way back to August, they just continue to get better. As a coach you would hope and pray that you would get better right away but what we've learned is that this preseason prior to conference is going to be about our ability to adapt and learn what our strengths are and let our strengths fuel us but at the same time work on our weaknesses and try to get one percent better every day. This past weekend was the start of a really one stretch for you on the road. You go out Las Vegas this weekend for the tournament at UNLV where you're going to take on some pretty good competition. What will you be looking for from your team?
KR: We're going to start off on Friday with DePaul and they're extremely talented and they're going to be a great challenge for us. Playing UNLV at UNLV is going to be tough as well. I feel like the way we set the schedule up was to get a little bit stronger and a little bit more difficult every week so that hopefully the practice that we've gotten and the games we've gotten under our belts will make us more prepared for that competition when we face it. We believe in playing a really tough preseason so when you get to conference you're not overwhelmed. You have seen equal to or better talent so your kids are already adapted to the speed of the game. Texas Tech, their lead pitcher was basically throwing between 66 and 70 miles per hour. Once you're able to see that kind of pitching then you don't get as overwhelmed the second time, the third time and I think you're able to grow with it. We know we're going to be on the road a long time and hopefully we're going to be stronger for having to adapt to not sleeping in our own bed, adjust to a new field, be home sometimes, be the visitors sometimes and putting ourselves in every scenario that we're going to face come conference. One of the other things about this upcoming weekend is you play six games in three days, two games per day. Obviously in years past you haven't always had the depth in the pitching staff that you have this year. How much of an advantage is that for you?
KR: I think the depth in our pitching staff is definitely going to help us. The more games that we're able to play the more experience each one of those pitchers is going to get. So as we need to draw on that experience come conference I think they'll be more ready to help us because I think a lot of times it's not just about more games but it's about having the courage to play everybody to get more experience so that when their name is called they're ready for the job. From the first three weeks and into the next three weekends which will wrap up your non-conference play, what growth do you want to see before you hit conference play?
KR: Being young offensively I think we've stranded too many runners by pressing with runners in scoring position. We want to capitalize on that instead of feeling it as pressure. I want to see the pitchers continue to be able to attack the strike zone, getting leadoff, being able to hit our spots so that our defense can play behind us and be able to adjust with us. I also want to be able to continue to play multiple people so that when we get to conference there aren't just five kids who are exhausted mentally and emotionally.