bleedCrimson.net: You won three of the five games out at the UNLV tournament, the final game of the tournament you lost to DePaul who is a very good program.
Kathy Rodolph: The thing about DePaul, they’re a very talented program and they did a great job of being very aggressive. It was probably one of the most aggressive teams that we had played to that point so they kind of put us on our heels, being so young. What I’ve noticed is that every weekend we get better and we’ve faced different challenges.
bc.net: The game down at UTEP was the second meeting of the year and you’ve spoken very highly of the new head coach at UTEP.
KR: I felt like we really struggled at the beginning of the game. The zone was really, really tight and it was tight for both sides, for us and for UTEP. But in the first inning we had two outs and two strikes on the batter and we ended up walking two, hitting one and giving up a single and being down 2-0 before we could get out of the inning and that kind of put us on our heels. In preparing for tomorrow night’s game you go back and look at game film and see what you could have done differently. What Karysta learned from that game was whatever the strike zone is, you’ve just got to pump it. She kept continuing to hit the same spot and kept thinking that the umpire would change his mind and so it was a very valuable lesson that if that’s not getting called then you’ve got to go somewhere else and I feel like she is so much better now than she was then. At the same time, she had an upper respiratory infection that night and I think it might have added in being more stubborn than normal in adjusting to the zone.
bc.net: Later that week you went out to Texas Tech where you split four games. What were your thoughts on that weekend?
KR: UTA was a conference opponent last year and we knew several of the position players, new pitching staff and head coach Kristy Fox, a former standout All-American for U of A so you definitely that they were going to be tough and they were going to be improved and I felt like they were and we split with them. We beat Northern Colorado and ended up losing to Texas Tech. I felt like we played pretty well against Texas Tech, they just played better in their stadium.
bc.net: You went out to San Jose State and played a game against them. A former WAC opponent, obviously a lot of history with them and a lot of history given what happened last year.
KR: It was funny, [Coach] Turner and I were talking about how new our teams were this year as opposed to last year because he has a ton of new kids and we have seven freshmen and a 4-2 ballgame where we had opportunities. They just handled it well and did well with runners in scoring position. To be honest with you it was a good lead up game to go into the Fresno State tournament. I feel like talent-wise it could have gone either way.
bc.net: Your trip out to Fresno, a good field out there, you picked up a couple of wins and were competitive in the three losses.
KR: What our kids are finally learning that we’re not going to go into many places where we’re going to be overlooked. We’re going to draw a team’s best pitcher, they’re going to expect a great game with Staci Rodriguez and Fiana Finau having close to 20 home runs between the two. We’re definitely going to get somebody’s best games and I’m very glad we went to the Fresno State tournament. The facility itself is amazing for the kids to play in and it’s a big-time atmosphere and so it sets the stage with conference coming up and set to start this weekend. We didn’t play very well against Colorado State but I have to tip my had to them because they were up for our game and they played very well. We played St. Mary’s in our tournament and we had split with them in our tournament and that was a really, really good game and we beat them 1-0. We beat Pacific, they’ve got some kids injured an some sickness and I think that Pacific was a little down for our game without all of their weapons. I think it would have been a great game either way but they were missing a couple of their key kids. The Fresno State game, playing Fresno in Fresno is always tough. I thought we played pretty well. We could have capitalized in a couple of areas to score some runs but overall that was a good game. The last day we played Cal Poly and Sierra Highland, I had actually recruited her when she was a junior in high school and she decided to stay in California. She did a great job. We played well with them but we had a little difficulty getting to Sierra.
bc.net: The UNM game mid-week last week, it was the first meeting with them and rivalry games are always pretty heated.
KR: Any time we’re going to play UTEP or UNM it’s going to be a rivalry game and with the seven freshmen and only three seniors, our young kids area learning what that means. It’s not a conference game but you can feel in the air that it’s an important game. UNM played well, we played well, we had an opportunity to win it at the end but were just not able to catch fire at the end. I thought all-in-all we’re playing good defensively, we’re pitching much better. At different points in the season our offense would be on but our pitching wasn’t, our offense and pitching might be okay but the defense wasn’t or the defense would be on but the pitching wasn’t. So it’s been kind of like a slow bake team to where we’re getting better every week and I hope we’re getting better at the rate we need to when we open up on Friday. Not to say that tomorrow’s game against UTEP isn’t an important game but all the games really start, you go for the gold come Friday.
bc.net: We talked about it at the beginning of the season but this has been a very strange year for you in the shear amount of road games you’ve played. You played four straight weekends on the road but then on top of that you were playing midweek games as well. We’ve talked about this before and a lot of times when you’re just playing games all the time you don’t really have a lot of time to practice and work on things you’re struggling with. How do you feel like your team has handled this long road stretch?
KR: I feel like they were probably pretty much at the point, especially being a young team, of “I’m not able to do this anymore, this is so much harder than what we though.” Cat did a great job of scheduling by leaving the weekend open because Friday started spring break for us. We had UNM last Wednesday and we play UTEP tomorrow but we’ve had quite a bit of time to get back into shape. When you’re on the road all the time and you only get to lift maybe once a week, especially with midweek games, you’re not quite as strong, you’re not quite as fast and what I’m most excited about is that we came through it and we’re healthy. Starting conference play we’re relatively healthy and I feel like with the four back-to-back weekends it could have gone either way with a young team. I had a lot of things I wanted to work on with the pitchers, Cat had a lot of things she wanted to work with the hitters on and then we both wanted to make sure that defensively we were moving well and communicating as a unit and now I feel like we’re ready to play tomorrow.
bc.net: Looking at the record with so many road games and neutral games are still really like road games, you came out of this with a 15-10 road record, that’s got to be very encouraging for you especially since you’ve got the unbalanced conference schedule with only two home series.
KR: The preseason was designed so that when we go on the road in conference we’ve already been in a lot of different situations this year. I’m hoping the preseason will pay off in conference this year. With three series on the road and only two at home, I’m hoping we’re really going to enjoy being at home because we’ve been here such a limited time this year. Our field looks great, our grass couldn’t look any better and I have a feeling it’s because it’s not getting beat down a whole lot with so many road games. The kids are so excited to be at home this weekend then we’ll be on the road at Kansas City the following weekend and then we’ll be back here and it’ll already be senior weekend. It’s just so crazy how fast everything has gone this year.
bc.net: As you look at your team before the start of conference, you knew you had a young team coming in, where is this team with respect to where you had hoped they would be or with respect to some goals and milestones you had set up before the season?
KR: Statistically we’re doing what I had hoped we would do. I really challenged our team for the remainder of the season to play fearless ball and not worry about mistakes, not worry about any hit you didn’t get before, not worry about any pitch you didn’t make before but to honestly go out and get so immersed in the game that you have to look at the very end of the game to see if you’ve won it or not. With a young team it’s easy to go back and forth and have your confidence waiver. Keith Autry, our volunteer assistant told the team today that your confidence comes from your preparation. If you prepare for the battle every day then you look forward to the opportunity to show you prepared. I challenged them hard, it’s going to be a rivalry tomorrow night but I want them to want the ball every play. I want the pitcher to want the ball in the circle and I want the kid who wants to be at the plate with the game on the line in the bottom of the seventh.
bc.net: I talked to Rocky about this last week before the baseball team started conference, a lot of teams depending on how the non-conference went, use conference play as a chance to hit the reset button on the season. What’s your philosophy when you enter conference play?
KR: We chunked the season into everything we do as traveling. We all want to go to Oklahoma City, that’s where the World Series is. If we got in our cars and we were driving to Oklahoma City, the only thing I can see is the next 200 feet so I’ve got to stay focused on the next 200 feet. We started that when we went to two-a-day practice, then practice when school started was the next 200 feet, then preseason, all these tournaments, all these games to prepare for the next 200 feet which starts this Friday with conference. I feel like to this point, everything we’ve asked them to do to get better under pressure, now we’re ready to start conference and we know that whoever is going to win the WAC, and we certainly hope it’s us, is going to have to be great in the battle. We’re going to have to go on the road, we’re going to have to be visitors, we’re going to have to adjust to the weather when we go to Kansas City in two weekends, I think the high was 27 and it’s 80-plus degrees here. I think the kids have been prepared. When we went to Texas Tech, on Friday it was 80, on Saturday it was 40 and then on Sunday it was 75. We have had a lot of things that have prepared us so that we shouldn’t be blindsided from anything we see from here on out.
bc.net: When you look at the league and how things have shaken out in non-conference, what are your observations of the other teams as you prepare for conference play?
KR: I think Seattle is going to be one of the top opponents we face in the WAC, not to say the others aren’t going to be talented, but we know a lot of the Seattle kids because they were in conference last year and we know that in order to win the series this year that we’re going to have to be on our game. Grand Canyon won some really good games and beat some quality opponents and they’re going to be really tough. UMKC had a good win this last weekend. Utah Valley struggled early but now they’ve started coming around and have started playing well coming into conference and Cal State Bakersfield has had some good wins too. Hopefully we’re going to be able to take care of business at one and hopefully we’ll be great road warriors when we go on the road.
bc.net: With only five conference weekends, how do you prepare for that strategically because it makes each individual game that much more important because you have less margin for error?
KR: The thing that we really did in the preseason is we played more of our 22 kids day in and day out than we ever have so that we can prepare for when we go into conference. We want to have more depth than any team in the conference and we want that in pitching, we want it in defense and we want it in our offense. I’ve split time amongst three pitchers and I’m hopeful when we go down to playing three games on a weekend as opposed to five or six, we’re going to be fresh and be at our best for those. I feel like we’re at a point where this season has been so grueling for four weeks, no matter if we’re traveling or not, is going to seem easier.
bc.net: You talked a little bit about it but this is the healthiest your team has gone into conference play since the tournament team.
KR: I joke about it, I think because we’re so young, it’s a blessing and a curse. The young kids have not had the injury and overuse and part of us being healthy is having the seven freshmen and only having three seniors. You love the seniors for their experience but their bodies are on the urge of not being able to keep going. Part of the healthiness is being able to share the load and multiple kids playing. Staci Rodriguez is almost a mainstay in every game, Emma Adams at third is a mainstay in almost every game, Kelsey Dodd has played a lot at first but everybody else has kind of moved around and mixed in the catching, middle infield, left field and right field and I think what that does is keep you mentally fresh.
bc.net: You had a large freshman class a few years back, the one that went to the tournament, what did you learn from coaching that class that you can carry over and apply to this year’s team and obviously there are a couple of different philosophies one being that by this time of the year freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore but we also see a lot of times that freshmen have a tendency to hit the wall at some point. How do you keep that from happening?
KR: I feel like our freshmen probably hit it last week. The fourth week on the road and all the different time zones, from Lubbock to Fresno to UNLV, all the different time zones. They were exhausted. I feel like by having the weekend off and by having spring break and being able to practice for a couple hours a day and catch up on their school work and catch up on their sleep, now I feel like they’re rejuvenated and ready to go right at the right time of conference. I think if we would have traveled this past weekend before having a conference series, I think the freshmen would have been spent. I have to tip my had to Cat because when we discussed leaving an open weekend in the middle, sometimes you worry about it because if you play and you’re in sync then you can stay in sync but we both decided that with a young team the time off and the actual time to get back and practice and prepare for conference was more important than playing a game and we’ll see if that pays off.