Weekly Coach Rodolph Interview :: 04/09/14 Your thoughts on the UMKC series, you were able to pick up a series victory bouncing back from a loss in the first game to win the next two.
Kathy Rodolph: It was our first time to Kansas City, that was interesting. We had great barbecue. It was really, really cold when we got there. It was 40 degrees with about 75 percent humidity and so from leaving Las Cruces at 80 to that, we didn’t play as well as I would have liked in game one and I think the weather affected us. I liked our response in game two in whatever mother nature is going to bring just get after it when we’re playing . It was just kind of different. They play at a city park and rec field and it was having to make quite a few adjustments. There weren’t batting cages or true bullpens so I think in hindsight in looking back over it it was good for us to have to be uncomfortable and make adjustments. The second game of the doubleheader on Friday you come back after the loss and run rule them 13-4. Obviously your team must have gotten comfortable pretty quickly because you lose and you have to turn right around and play again.
KR: What we talked to them about after the game, we were all disappointed in the way that we played in game one. We gave up nine runs and only one was earned. That tells you how many errors there were. What we talked to the kids about was you can either lick your wounds and focus on that game or understand that that game is gone and there’s nothing you can do about it but your response to it shows whether you’re a championship team or not. We really dug in and got after it in game two and I really did like our response. You came out in game three the next day and you were able to pick up the 8-5 victory.
KR: When you start conference and you have to play the same team three times there’s no more secrets. You’ve laid all your cards on the table and they’ve laid all their cards on the table and when you’re the visiting team you have to be able to capitalize on opportunities to score runs. You’re still going to be pressured in the seventh to be able to hold that lead on the road because you’re not the home team. I liked that we came out and were aggressive early and set the tone for the game. How do you feel like your team handled that first WAC road weekend?
KR: It’s kind of hard to evaluate exactly where I think we were as far as going on the road. I don’t know that going on the road bothered us as much as the weather did and it being that cold at this point. It hadn’t been that cold here since January. We have three seniors and seven freshmen and what I’ve learned is however the upperclassmen respond to things whether it’s a new environment, new city, a new field, cold weather, however they respond, the younger ones think that’s just the way it is. I think we grew a lot as a team from this last weekend. You return home this weekend for Bakersfield and it’s Senior Weekend. I think it’s the earliest you’ve ever had a Senior Weekend.
KR: It seems like just yesterday we were starting the season and to think that it’s already Senior Weekend and Celisha, Alyssa and Kristi it’ll be their final weekend at our field, it’s just kind of mind boggling. Then to know the next two weekends we go on the road for conference and then on to Seattle for the conference tournament, I also think it’s a fun special time because when somebody has gone through your program for four years and become a senior it means they’ve matured tremendously. Cat and I expect a lot of our kids. We expect a lot from them in the classroom, in the community, on the field and it’s not an easy thing to go all the way through all four years with us. There’s a mutual respect when you get to Senior Weekend. Because the Senior Weekend is so early this year, how do you handle that because Senior Weekends are usually toward the end of the season and you’ve still got about a month of softball left.
KR: To me Senior Weekend no matter when it falls is about celebrating kids who have achieved a milestone in our program. We started in January and we’ve been chunking the season along into th e next 200 feet. If we want to get to Oklahoma City and you’re driving at night and you can only see 200 feet in front of you and that’s all your headlights will show you, now we’re kind of going week by week as our next 200 feet and trying to the best of our ability to continue to get better every week. I feel like last year we might have peaked a little bit too early and started hanging on versus getting better and every single weekend we played I’ve seen some aspect of our program get better. Whether it’s from kids who maybe had not been contributing as much becoming a contributing factor. Cat could basically throw a dart and decide who she wants to put up for hitter of the week because all the pieces are starting to come together on the offensive side. I feel like the pitchers are finally getting in the groove and being able to work together. Now the next step is probably continuing to get our defense stronger and with no communication miscues. You’ve got three seniors on the roster with Kristi Covarrubia, Alyssa Ruiz and Celisha Walker. Kristi is a player that could probably start for a lot of the teams in the WAC over the last four years but just happened to be behind some pretty good players.
KR: Kristi when she decided to play for me here, being born and raised in New Mexico state, she actually turned down a track scholarship. She had won the state title in the javelin throw. When I think of Kristi I think of a true utility. In high school she pitched and she could throw 60mph. When she came in her freshman year we caught her. Then we moved her from catcher and she played outfield for us. Then we moved her from outfield and she’s playing middle infield for us. If Kristi had not blown both of her ACLs and had a high anke sprain last year, injuries have kind of set her back a little bit and we’re just trying to nurse her along this year and have her finish on a high note. I think she’s absolutely done that. She’s undergone a lot of injuries in her five years. What is one thing that sticks out about her?
KR: Kristi never blinks an eye at wherever you ask her to go. I think that there’s only a couple of kids that I’ve had the ability to move around the field and play wherever. Tehani Ka’aihui is one of them and Kristi is the other. Kristi last year was very significant in the top of our lineup with Cat in working in tandem with Amber Olive. I like Kristi’s versatility, natural righty that goes from the left size that can swing or use bat control. When I think of Kristi I think of the true utility that is unselfish and willing to go anywhere. Alyssa Ruiz is your catcher, she’s having a really good year for you.
KR: Alyssa has a background in martial arts. She’s not that big, she’s only 5’4”, she’s kind of small for a Division I catcher but I think her background in martial arts really helps her with the mental side behind the plate. Alyssa is one of the bet receiving catchers we’ve had the opportunity to coach. Her level of knowledge of the game is very good. She understands the game and everything that goes into it and what I really like is she’s really dedicated herself this year to come in extra and put in extra time to bring a stronger offensive presence as well as a defensive presence behind the plate. What one moment or play sticks out for you about Alyssa?
KR: There have been several because she’s gotten really blown up behind the plate and I feel like if the ball beats any runner there, she’s great at catching it, hanging on and taking the hit and for behind so little, I really respect that. Celisha Walker, your last senior. I know you love all your players but as a pitcher maybe she’s just a little closer to your heart. She’s had quite the career at New Mexico State. Obviously the biggest moment that stands out for me is her pitching for you in the home finale against Boise State in which you won the regular season title.
KR: Celisha has really grown. She is one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached. Celisha could play short, she can hit, she could play anywhere. She’s extremely athletic. What I’ve really enjoyed is seeing her really grow into a confident young woman that when she graduates she’s going to go out and be ready to start the next chapter in her life. I challenged her quite a bit as the pitching coach and this year with such a really young team Celisha has done a great job of showing composure in the circle. It’s really helped Karysta come back from her injury last year and gain that confidence an composure in the circle and also given that to Makayla McAdams. Nothing is ever too high or too low. If you get out of sync, fake it til you make it. She has developed into a closer role for us this year where if we can keep it close to the fifth, sixth and seventh and then bring Celisha in and somebody has to deal with her changeup and drop in the fifth, sixth and seventh, we know the outcome is going to be pretty good. What else has Celisha been able to pick up over the course of the last four years that you’re really proud of?
KR: Well she can vary the timing on the rubber where she can dictate the timing of at bats. The changeup and her drop look identical and she’s worked really hard at that but she can also throw the ball in the up zone and really in the offseason worked hard not to just be a down zone pitcher but she can throw the screw and curve and she can really get in on somebody’s hands with the rise ball. What I like the most about Celisha is when she comes into the circle, the infield defense calms down and believes that she’s going to put the ball where it’s called and so she lets her team defend behind her. We talked about her pitching in the game that clinched the regular season title for you but what else has stood out for you from her time here?
KR: There’s been quite a few. Last year I felt like she did a great job when we went to San Jose. We came up a little bit short in those games but Alex Newman had thrown so many innings and Celisha stepped up big and started carrying the weight at the end of the year. I think this year for us to have the kind of year we’re having right now she has a lot to do with it because at the beginning of the year first weekend out we took a beating from Florida State and Nebraska and she gave us the courage to get back in there and that was a game and it was done and set your sights on the next outcome. I definitely like the confidence and composure she brings to the team. Before all the realignment in the WAC, there were a lot of very good pitchers in the league and I don’t know if your pitchers have gotten the amount of credit they should have gotten just because of all of the quality pitchers in the league. What do you think going up against those other pitchers has helped with their development?
KR: The teams in the past when you’re talking about Fresno State or Hawai’i or Nevada or San Jose, you never took a night off. If you didn’t bring a game any one of those teams was going to beat you as bad as they could and there came a certain level of expectation in what the job was. I think Alex Newman was a way underrated player because she wasn’t a big strikeout pitcher. But she was very efficient and the team defended behind her very well. In postseason play she throws a no-hitter and the defense behind her has 17 of 21 outs. It was one of those things that she could keep people off balance enough to give us an opportunity with our offense not to feel like you have to press all the time. What I feel like our pitchers are doing a better job of now is getting ahead and really hitting spots and I can’t emphasize enough how important that is. If somebody has a short game and your pitchers aren’t hitting their spots then your defense starts playing in no man’s land and they aren’t able to defend the short game and they really aren’t able to defend rockets. We’ve worked really hard to marry all of our defense up together and it definitely starts up front with composure in the circle. What was happening early is when we would get nervous in the circle we’d start walking people and you just can’t defend that. Celisha met with all of the pitchers and said hey if somebody is going to beat us they’re going to beat us but it’s not going to be because we walked people. I think that was huge and she expects it of herself as well as others. What have you seen from this group of three seniors in terms of overall leadership and with a smaller group it’s obviously different than with a big group of seniors.
KR: These three seniors are not very vocal seniors. They like to lead by example and they want everyone to do the right thing. It’s been a little bit of a challenge to step out of their comfort zone and be more vocal because they have to be. There were three freshmen in this class it was actually Celisha Walker, Alyssa Ruiz and Val Swedberg. Kristi ended up redshirting her first year which put her into this class but when Val, Alyssa and C-Dub came in, they were freshmen in the 2011 winning season. If you ask them they’d tell you that nobody showed them the way. It was senior heavy and if you wanted to get into the lineup you had to compete day in and day out with some very talented kids. They learned in a hurry what the level of expectation was and went after it. If they hadn’t done that they wouldn’t have played. I think their freshman year really toughened all of them up.