bleedCrimson.net: Your team is on an eight game winning streak. Starting two weekends ago at the Troy Cox Classic, you had a tough Friday losing 5-0 and 13-3 but then you capped off the weekend with two walk-off wins and a come-from-behind win against Texas Tech. After the first weekend we talked about your team’s resiliency.
Kathy Rodolph: I think part of the job of the coaching staff when you have a very young team is to really be reflective and be the mirror when they need it. When they’re down being encouraging and kind of know when to really push them and when to give. The first weekend out, no doubt Nebraska and Florida State were just at a different place with their program than we are with our young program. We knew we were going to get on our heels. We wanted to see how we would respond to it. The following weekend we did not play well at all on Friday. Cat and I challenged the kids just that that’s not who we are. I can understand if we’re making routine plays and we’re just pitching as well as we can in the circle and we’re doing what we do offensively but I can’t handle when we get intimidated and get on our heels and don’t play. I think they understood it too and they had seen themselves play so much better and they knew they needed to rebound. I really feel like they did. They just started doing the little things. The little things add up. Defensively, I think we had more errors in the first weekend than we had all last year. It can make you nervous and make you cough up the ball and the speed of the game can seem so much faster and the team you’re playing so much better than you but it’s all perception. I was really proud of how we were able to play defense and how we were able to get our feet under us offensively, when we finished with Iowa State and Texas Tech, those were two really quality wins for us. That kind of led us into last weekend.
bc.net: With the win against Texas Tech, what does that mean to a young team in particular being able to come from behind to win and how does that help with the confidence of the team?
KR: It was huge. I will say that Texas Tech has as many freshmen as we do. We have seven and they have a whole slew too. They have Cara Custer, an experience pitcher in the circle. She was just a little bit off. She’s a very talented pitcher from Washington. We recruited her out of high school and lost her to Texas Tech. She’s a very talented young lady. That was kind of a game where both of us are very athletic and both of us have a lot of youngsters and both of us trying to see who can get their feet under them and when we saw ourselves be able to play with an athletic team like Texas Tech that gave us a lot of confidence going into the next weekend.
bc.net: In the final three games of the Troy Cox Classic your pitching was outstanding. It looks like your pitchers are starting to come around.
KR: Celisha is stepping up as a senior and we’ve asked her to really be efficient and let the team defend behind her and not throw a bunch of pitches to keep us out on defense. Let our team defense behind you. Kind of like what we’d done the last four years against Alex. Celisha in her last outing on Sunday threw five complete innings and only threw 47 pitches. She was getting us out of innings in eight innings or less. It gives you so much momentum back to your offense to get back to the sticks. The less time you spend on defense and the more time you spend on offense, the better chance you have of scoring runs.
bc.net: The weekend at UTEP’s tournament, you’re playing teams that you’re more established than they are, especially Incarnate Word. How encouraging was it for your team to go out and be able to take care of business?
KR: First it was interesting us playing Incarnate Word because their coach actually played for us. She played for us and went to Junior College World Series when we were at EPCC and when we went to Angelo State she went to Angelo State with us and won the national championship there. It was neat to be playing against one of your former players. Incarnate Word is a program that’s transitioning from Division II to Division I. They hold their own with NAIA and Division II schools but I think the speed of the game is a little fast for them right now as they’re making that transition. What i was proud of is our girls capitalized on that and we were able to play a bunch of people and get a lot of opportunities for kids who maybe hadn’t gotten as many opportunities yet.
bc.net: Out of the weekend you were able to sweep the weekly conference awards.
KR: For Cat to get three back-to-back-to-back hitters of the week is impressive. It was really nice to see Celisha honored. She went the entire weekend and gave up only two hits and had a 0.00 earned run average against her. Not only was she efficient but she was also very good. To me it just shows you that we’re continuing to get better every week. Obviously this weekend coming up is going to be a huge challenge for us. We’re breaking the season into the next 200 feet in the journey to try to get to Oklahoma City. We know going into UNLV that the competition is going to step up another notch and hopefully by week four of the season we’re ready to tackle that as we face it.
bc.net: This weekend’s tournament is somewhat unique in that unlike the previous three weekends you don’t face any of the teams more than once so you don’t have that time to make an adjustment. What is the next progression for your team’s preparation going into a game?
KR: Sometimes we’re going to be the home team, sometimes we’re going to be the visiting team but we’re always going to be on the road because it’s at UNLV so I think it’s going to take a young team into the next step of what that means. Basically if you’re the visiting team you’re going have to be able to hold with your back against the wall as somebody is attacking you. We’ve been fortunate enough to be at home a lot early and be the home team. You really have to learn to play defense under pressure late in games. This will be a good challenging weekend for us.
bc.net: You come off of that weekend, you play at noon on Sunday in the final game and then travel back to Las Cruces and then play a rivalry game down at UTEP on Tuesday, obviously a game with a lot of emotion and a game that both teams always play well in.
KR: UTEP just finished a doubleheader against Arizona and then they’re on their way to California to a very tough tournament out there. We’re both going to have very challenging weekends and have a short amount of time to recover. We’ll both get home Sunday night and then turn around and play Tuesday evening. It’s going to be a great rivalry game, it always is every time we play UNM or UTEP. UTEP changed coaches this year and Tobin Echo-Hawk who is a former standout from Nebraska who coached at Portland State the last couple of years is the new head coach there and she has really got the kids playing with a lot of confidence and really playing well.
bc.net: What have you seen from the first weekend to now that you’re really pleased with as far as progression from week one to week three?
KR: I think our communication on defense is much better because we had brand new middle infielders. We’re getting some solid offensive contributions out of the catching spot and so we’ve been able to play three different catchers and all three of them have been able to produce offense. We’ve got Celisha, Karysta and Makayla all doing well in the circle and all three of them give you very different looks. I like our speed, I like our aggression on the bases. Last year we had to get multiple base hits to be able to score runs because we didn’t have as much speed and we’re much more balanced this year. Hopefully by the time we get to conference we’ll be able to utilize that speed.
bc.net: You’re in a unique position in that a lot of teams don’t have four pitchers that they can send out to the circle with confidence. What have you seen from the pitching staff that makes them co-exist so well together?
KR: We have a lot of unselfish kids. We feel like we’ve got tons of kids that can play and only nine that can play at one time. Part of how well we were going to do, we have a slogan this year that this is Team 39. What that means is this is the 39th year of softball at New Mexico State. Last year was Team 38 and next year is going to be Team 40 but this is Team 39 and we’ve always got to put it first and make sure we have Team 39’s back. That’s something we’ve preached to the team the whole year. The pitchers all believe they’re all going to get the ball and they’re all going to be able to help contribute to a win and so they’re not waiting for somebody to mess up for an opportunity to go in. They’re excited when their name is called and they know they have a job to go do.
bc.net: You picked up career win number career win number 300 at New Mexico State and you’re closing in on career win number 500 overall. Obviously from the program was when you took over I’m sure that 300 seemed a long ways away. Obviously that speaks to your success and longevity.
KR: I’m a native New Mexican and I always believed that New Mexico State was a fantastic place for women to get their education. It’s a safe environment, it’s a smaller community, you have an opportunity to get out and get involved in your community and do things that maybe in some of the bigger areas you might not get to do. Cat and I really go after the hard-working blue collar kids who first and foremost want to get their degree and second want to win at life. I feel like if you put those two together the winning on the field will come. I feel very honored to have been able to coach so many fantastic women that have gotten their degrees, gone on, pay it forward and now they’re out there making the world a better place. To me that’s what it’s all about. Those transitional years between 18 to 22, you either really get your feet under you where you’re confident to go tackle whatever the world is going to throw at you or you under reach your potential. If I had to say one thing I was the most proud of, I think we do a great job of pushing our kids to be the very best that they can be, not for us or so that we can win a game but so that they can win at life. I think that’s what kind of keeps both of us in it and loving what we do.
After 27 years of coaching, I remember in my first two years of coaching having a conversation with my dad and my dad saying, “When this isn’t as fun as it is right now, what are you going to do with yourself?” I remember looking at him and saying, “What do you mean it’s not going to be as fun?” He said, “When you get 30 years down the road you might not want to be on the road nonstop recruiting, coaching, traveling, playing, what are you going to do?” I look back on it now and kind of laugh because it is still fun. When you walk through that gate and you get to go hand pick who you’re going to coach and who you’re going to work with and bring that together and see them transition from young girls into women, it’s just an awesome experience.
bc.net: You talked about the head coach at Incarnate Word being one of your former players. What does that mean to you as a coach to see someone that you coached follow in your footsteps knowing that you had an influence on them becoming a coach?
KR: It’s kind of interesting because when we recruited Mandy in high school her mom had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. We signed her, they wheeled her mom up to the field and we signed her at the field and her mom said, “All I ask is that you get her her degree.” She came to El Paso Community College with us and as soon as we decided to take over the new program at Angelo State it wasn’t even a question, she didn’t have a choice. She was going with us and she was going to get her degree. She’s probably only about 5’2” but a phenomenal second baseman, phenomenal glove work. I remember one time Cat giving her the bunt sign and the ball was above her head and she went up and she got on top of that ball and slammed that ball into the ground. Somebody asked her how she did that and she said, “Well the thought would never cross your mind not to get it done.” We still laugh about it to this day. It’s funny, all the ones that come back, we had a fun alumni event this fall and some from our very first years of coaching here, Lindsey Hainzigner, that we didn’t recruit but we coached. Lee Ann had recruited her, a bunch of those guys came back for the alumni weekend. It’s so much fun to see all of them be so successful and have so much pride coming back because when we first took over the program it was in shambles and they were 8-55 and they got run-ruled 60 percent of the time and so there wasn’t a whole lot of pride in that this is where you played. Now that’s just not th case. We hear from the alumni, we have over 500 followers on Twitter who are just so proud of how this year’s group is doing and they want to know what they can do to help. They know that they’re very proud now and they should be. They got their degree at New Mexico State and they shouldn’t really look back at if it was successful, we wouldn’t be successful now if they hadn’t paved the way then.