bleedCrimson.net will be conducting weekly interviews with Aggie women's softball head coach Kathy Rodolph throughout the 2008 season as the Aggies take aim at the WAC title. In this week's interview Coach Rodolph recaps last week's 6-0 performance, talks about freshman Hoku Nohara winning the WAC Hitter of the Week and looks ahead at the University of Arizona Tournament..
bleedCrimson.net: First of all, congratulations on your outstanding week. Can you talk about being able to go from starting out the week 2-8 and finishing the week 8-8?
Kathy Rodolph: I've always believed all along that we have an outstanding ballclub. I just really felt like when we went to Palm Springs we got a little bit on our heels and might have been a little bit surprised at the caliber of competition and so all we've been doing as a staff has been to get us back to playing our game to be aggressive and attack knowing that every time you come out on the field, one of the two teams is going to attack the other. So if that's the case then I'd like that to be us.
bc.net: Can you first talk about the UTEP game? You were able to beat them 7-3 and were able to get to their best pitcher Nicole Tunget for six runs.
KR: I feel like any time we play UTEP it's going to be an all out intense game. So I think we prepared our girls for what that battle was going to be. Our young ones were cautious and excited to figure out what a UTEP or UNM series is. I really feel like made the difference is that Kim [Watson] was able to keep them at bay for the most part so that we could continue to attack offensively.
bc.net: In the Troy Cox Classic the first game against Oklahoma State game, you went down 4-3 in the 7th, similar situation to the last two games of the Hotel Encanto, but this time, your hitters were clutch and came through for you and you pulled out the win. Can you talk about that?
KR: That was an absolutely turning point game because we had gotten so close in several games but fell short. I feel like we battle all the way to the last out because of some of the other games we experienced and were horribly disappointed when we fell short. When you have Ashley Maroda and Hoku Nohara up in the bottom of the seventh with opportunities to score runs with runners in scoring positions, I kind of like my chances.
bc.net: How much did that victory over OSU help loosen up your club and get the pressure off of them?
KR: It absolutely gave us some confidence that we really needed. Kat and I kept preaching to the kids that we absolutely are a good ballclub and our record doesn't indicate the talent that we have but it's hard for the girls to believe unless they see those results. So I feel like when we came through; and we knew we beat a good ballclub in Oklahoma State, they had gotten votes for the Top 25 the week before after beating #15 Washington, we knew we had absolutely tackled a tough team.
bc.net: Then after the OSU game, your bats just exploded. You beat Utah Valley State 12-8 and you had a 10 run second inning, Can you talk about that inning and what it's like to put together a 10 run inning?
KR: Honestly it's pretty amazing. The thing you worry about as a coach in a tournament setting, sometimes if you get too hot in a particular game, then you can use up an awful lot of adrenaline and come out flat the next day. So we were really trying to play multiple people to allow us to keep the energy high throughout the weekend. I definitely had felt like all along that the type of individuals that we were able to put together in this ballclub with speed, singles, five or six power hitters who could hit it out of the yard, we're a lot more balanced offensively than we've ever been here.
bc.net: Then your bats were still hot when you faced Indiana State, you had an 8 run inning that included a grand slam that was hit against the wind and finished with 19 hits and probably would have had more if not for the run rule. How much of a factor was being able to basically turn around less than an hour later to play ISU in keeping your momentum going?
KR: We've got so much depth in our freshman class so every day they compete for playing time and the one thing that's kind of been holding us back this year has just been getting used to so much competition to play. In the past basically we designated starters and that was it. We didn't rotate a whole lot. But with this year's group you're able to rotate more. So I feel like every opportunity each young lady gets, they plan to do more with it because they want to be the one in the lineup more than not. I feel like when you have that going on, it's not so much who's in the other dugout, you're so excited to play. That's kind of what we have going on and we're not so focused on some of the times that it didn't go exactly right, we welcome the opportunity to play. This weekend we know we're going to have to step it up again. What I found last weekend is that people were starting to get intiimidated by the size of the kids that we have and the way we were swinging the bat. If you can dominate and get in a pitcher's head to where you can convince them that you can hit anything they have, then the outcome's not going to be pretty.
bc.net: Then on Sunday you beat Samford, a team that you hadn't faced before, 7-4. Can you talk a little bit about that game?
KR: Samford is a good ballclub and I feel like that was a really good win for us because they're a solid ballclub defensively and offensively. Coming out on day three, we had expended a lot of energy and so I really challenged the kids not to come out flat, not to take it for granted and to really come out and show who they were and how tough they could be and I was really proud of the battle on day three.
bc.net: And then you capped it off with a 9-0 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in which you invoked the run rule for the second time in two days. Can you talk a little bit about that.
KR: I think Corpus had kid of run out of pitching because, watching Corpus throughout the tournament, they realized that in order for them to win they were going to have to attack offensively. I was real proud of us being able to keep them out of a lot of hit and run situations because I had watched them play other teams. Basically they got other teams on their heels because they were hitting and running. I was real proud of us in the circle in not allowing that to happen.
bc.net: You had 5 errors in the first two games but then didn't have any in the remaining three games. Can you talk about the comfort level of your defense now?
KR: I can you that wherever Kat and I have coached, defense is going to be a given. I believe that you play defense with your heart and it's a matter of being in mentally on every single play, leading the ball off the bat and honestly, wanting the ball to come to you in a pressure situation. And if you're going to play for us, it's a given that our defense is going to be right up there in the top of whoever we're going to play. I understand the struggles offensively and the challenge that you face when you go up against top rate pitching and really trying to get a bat on the ball but defensively there's no reason that we shouldn't be able to throw and catch with anyone.
bc.net: Hoku Nohara was named WAC Hitter of the Week for her performance last week. Have you ever had a freshman get FOTW this early in the season?
KR: No I haven't. I will tell you that Hoku's family was in from Hawai'i, little brothers and sisters and mom and dad and it was the first time her mom had seen Las Cruces so they definitely hold high expectations for Hoku. She was 13 time world champion in bench press for females, bench pressing 352 pounds, world record in her class. Also two time state champion in wrestling, can dead lift 675. She's impressive. I think with her judo background and her weightlifting background, mentally she definitely has an edge on a lot of kids.
bc.net: Is her mental edge is something that has rubbed off on the rest of the freshmen?
KR: Absolutely. She definitely gives them the courage to get in there and not be afraid of failure and battle as hard as you can every single time. Ashley Maroda's carrying a ton of weight on the other corner, Brittany Clifton has stepped in behind the plate and is doing a terrific job for us as another freshman. I just really feel like that's going to be a great class for us.
bc.net: This weekend to travel to U of A to face some stiff competition can you talk about the overall tournament and what you're looking to be able to do and how do you get this past week's performance to carry over?
KR: I think that because of our start of our season in Palm Springs the kids understand now what the challenge is going to be when we hit the U of A. They know that in order to come out with the victories that they want, they're going to have to up their game again. What I really like most about the schedule that we've set is this is what Division I softball is to my freshmen. They don't know any different. They understand that if they want to be the Top 25 team, they're going to have to give a little more, have a little luck and love the pressure and to stay calm and poised every opportunity that they get. The whole way we started the season is, it isn't so much where we were going to start the season in February, we want to continue to get better every week. So we're going to go in and we're going to try to get better against the stronger competition than we did in the Palm Springs tournament.
bc.net: Your first game in Tucson you'll face Illinois-Chicago (2-7) who you faced in the Hotel Encanto. They actually haven't played since that tournament and you mentioned that they had the flu bug going through their team when they played here. Do you think that not having played since then and going 0-5 in the Hotel Encanto, are they pressing a little bit and is that something that you can take advantage of?
KR: My personal philosophy is that when you have too long a layover it's difficult on the kids to stay in the flow and in a rhythm. However, if I was sick or injured I would definitely welcome the rest. I know after we had a strong performance against them here, they're definitely going to come out and battle us hard. So we better be ready and not overlook anybody.
bc.net: Then right after that you take on #24 Virginia Tech (9-4). You faced ranked teams in the Cathedral City and a very good Colorado State team in the Hotel Encanto, what's different for your team this time around? Do you feel your team will be more relaxed after this past weekend's performance and also having already faced some ranked teams?
KR: I'm hoping rather than being relaxed, they're going to be more determined. I hope that they can see themselves being successful against outstanding players. Virginia Tech has an outstanding pitcher. I believe we have some outstanding hitters and so we're going to have to go toe to toe with her and be able to lay off her riseball and make her bring it down into the zone. I welcome the challenge of going against a top rate pitcher because when we are determined and we're able to stay calm and in the moment I think that good things will happen.
bc.net: You mentioned their pitcher Angela Tincher, she's an All-American and in her last time out struck out 18 batters, do you know if you'll be facing her?
KR: We don't know for sure because they've got a tough game right before us. I don't know if Tincher will pitch the one before us or against us. With us, usually two really days, I let Kim split a little bit of time in both. I think it's a personal coaching philosophy so I don't know what they're going to do. But I would venture a guess that if we get on somebody else we'll see her.
bc.net: Then you face South Florida (8-5), they've got a pretty good pitcher in senior Courtney Mosch, can you talk a little bit about USF?
KR: We went to Tampa last year and we were scheduled to play them and we got rained out. I did get to watch them a few times and they're gonna be very aggressive. They're a good athletic looking ballclub, strong young ladies. They're going to get in there and swing it too. In order for us to not get on our heels, my pitcher is going to have to do a good job of mixing it up and varying the speeds.
bc.net: Saturday's game two you face Iowa State who's off to an 11-1 start, what can you tell us about them?
KR: We beat them last year in Houston so they're definitely going to come after us. Last year they had a new coaching staff so I think they had a little bit of time getting used to a new philosophy. It looks like they've adapted well now. They're playing with a lot of confidence, I feel like for us to do well we're going to have to come and be aggressive.
bc.net: Then on Sunday, obviously all the games are big but this is kind of the big one against two time defending national champion Arizona. Can you talk about that game and I know we talked a little at the beginning of the season about the opportunity to play them but now that it's here, can you talk a little bit more about that.
KR: What Arizona does to you is they pick your defense apart. I think that's going to be a good indicator for us of whether our short game defense is where it needs to be or whether we need to get better in a hurry. I also feel like it's a terrific challenge for our pitchers because they're going to be facing some very calm poised hitters. Any miss I would venture to guess that Arizona is going to capitalize on. Handling the pressure, the non-stop pressure on your defense, on the pitching staff is going to be interesting to see what that does to our offense.