Self-coached GVSU club softball team excels

Brady McAtamney

John Wooden, Bear Bryant and Bo Schembechler have all gone down in history as some of the finest college coaches to ever grace the sporting world. They inspired their teams, built long-standing programs and earned the respect of their athletes.

Coaches give guidance, draw up strategy and form groups of players into teams and families. The Grand Valley State softball team, however, is doing it all without a head coach.

The 15-player squad is self-coached, and, to this point in the season, is seeing top results. The Lakers have racked up a 14-2 record under their own guidance, and have a number of players high up in the National Club Softball Association (NCSA) statistic rankings.

“Yes, we are self-coached, so yes there are issues sometimes, but because we have such an amazing group of girls we are able to work these issues out,” said sophomore Rachel Chase. “We are a team; teams are able to work issues out and work for the best of the group. This is not an individual sport. If an issue arises, we know to bring it to the table. That is how we get better as people and as a group.”

While the team doesn’t have a coach at the top, there is still a sense of structure within the program. The Lakers have a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer who all take on duties that a head coach or administration might deal with for a traditionally composed squad. Kelsea Reed, one of just two seniors on the team, serves as a sort of player-coach, making key game time decisions.

“We have upperclassmen that will be leaders every now and then. But the team is made up of officers, which are our main leaders. I am the president so I make the final say in what goes. The lineups and pitching changes are made up by me. If I need any help in deciding what to do, I will ask my other officers what I should do,” said senior Kelsea Reed.

The Lakers prides themselves in being a tight-knit group, and claim the special bond they share as teammates has helped them overcome their coachless scenario.

“Not having a coach doesn’t seem to have any negative impact on our team ‘sticking together.’ If anything, it brings us closer. Our team is honest and open with each other about everything on the field,” said sophomore Paige Lavin. “We’re like a group of sisters and I believe our chemistry as a team will carry on into lifelong friendships.”

GVSU’s intangibles are not the team’s only forte, however. The 14-2 record isn’t by mistake, as the Lakers have a number of players among the national leaders in a variety of statistics. Sophomore Hannah Johnson leads the nation in hits with 22. Johnson’s 22 hits in 36 at-bats have earned her a .611 batting average — top for any athlete in the nation with 30 at-bats or more.

Sophomores Sarah Coutts and Anna Eckholm are tied for the NCSA lead with two home runs apiece. Eckholm also ranks third in the NCSA in runs (13) and total bases (30).

Sophomore pitcher Delaney Maki has been lights out for the Lakers this season, posting a 6-0 record with a 1.38 ERA. Maki has struck out an NCSA-leading 53 batters — well ahead of the second-place total of 42 from Miami (Ohio) pitcher Kate Mlitko.

“Last season, there were some grievances and confrontations in regards to how things were being handled. This year, however, it is a completely different story. A few girls either quit or graduated, and new girls came in… It’s just that this group of girls that meshes better,” Lavin said. “We are comfortable enough with each other to talk openly on our opinions about things, and everyone’s opinion matters. Therefore, we haven’t had any issues this year.”