‘Freedom to Communicate’ Huge for Staff; Rebels Face Six Top-20 Ranked Teams
This is part one of a five-part series previewing the 2014 Ole Miss softball season. Part one focuses on the Rebels’ coaching staff and schedule.
OXFORD, Miss. – It is often said competition breeds success. With more talent on the team, more individuals push each other and thus get better by playing against one another. With eight of nine starters returning, including the entire starting infield, the Ole Miss softball team has a lot of competition and a lot of talent heading into the 2014 season.
For Ole Miss head coach Windy Thees, who is entering her third year leading the Rebels, figuring out how to use the Rebels’ depth effectively and making in-game switches is a problem she’s happy to have.
“For us, it’s going to be a lot of fun this year to set up lineups and make changes throughout the year,” Thees said. “As coaches, our challenge is how to use our lineup more effectively, our depth more effectively, and to get wins by making switches at the right time.”
For the third consecutive season, Thees will lead the Rebels along with associate head coach Mike Perniciaro and assistant coach Julie Meyer. Together, the trio has increased Ole Miss’ win total in each of the past two years, and have set numerous program records, including hits, walks, stolen bases and fielding percentage in 2013. The Rebels also tied the program’s longest winning streak last season and hosted the largest crowd in the Ole Miss Softball Complex’s history.
“The three of us really have a good thing going,” Thees said. “We understand each other really well, we all know the game and have different viewpoints, and we’re not afraid to share them. And we all want what’s best for our team. I really like our different views that come together to be successful.”
While the staff can sometimes have different philosophies and viewpoints on style of play, that doesn’t mean they’re on different pages. Thees said their ability to bring up different ideas keeps things fresh and makes the game more exciting.
“Being able to have the freedom to communicate thoughts or ideas when you learn something new with each other – and whether we agree to go forward and try something new or not is something else – is great. As a coaching staff and as a coach of a sport, you have to continually look for new things, look for ways to improve and different ways to do things that may even be better than what you’ve always done.”
By working together as a unit for three straight years, the coaching staff has developed a comfort in expressing their ideas and beliefs. Thees said their freedom to communicate without worrying about phrasing it a certain way has allowed them to communicate faster as well.
“I trust Julie to do all the things I assign her and I worry about it much less. Same goes for Mike. And they worry about me less,” Thees said. “But we all always have each other’s backs to make sure we’re all getting our jobs done. It’s great. It’s great having a staff you trust 100 percent.”
As is the case every season in the Southeastern Conference, the Rebels face a challenging schedule of opponents in 2014. After opening the season in Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 7, Ole Miss will span the country, traveling to Charleston on the East Coast, and San Diego on the West Coast.
“We’re playing some really solid competition that is going to get us ready for conference play,” Thees said. “We’re playing at some beautiful venues and some universities that have really made a commitment to softball, which I love.”
Ole Miss opens the season at the FGCU/Four Points by Sheraton Invitational on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University, before then traveling to Charleston, S.C., to compete in the College of Charleston Classic.
The Rebels’ home opener comes Feb. 21-23 with the Red and Blue Classic. After winning the annual tournament last season, Ole Miss will welcome in Bowling Green, Buffalo, Northern Colorado, Saint Louis and Tennessee-Martin this year.
“When you host a tournament your job is to win it,” Thees said. “You have to come out here, defend it and win it. We have a tough crew of opponents coming in again this year, but our team needs to rise up. It will be our first time at home, and we need to play well in front of our home crowd and make Ole Miss proud. We need to show them how much growth we’ve had over the last few years.”
Ole Miss will then fly to California to compete in the San Diego Classic I on the campus of San Diego State University.
“It’s great competition out there and teams we don’t typically get to play down here in the Southeast,” Thees said. “Fresno State has such a rich history, as does San Diego State. It’s really good softball. Going out there is going to be great and that will be the week right before conference.”
In SEC play, Ole Miss will host No. 6 Alabama, Arkansas (which is receiving votes in the preseason USA Today/NFCA Coaches top 25), No. 12 Kentucky and No. 17 LSU. On the road, the Rebels travel to No. 4 Florida, South Carolina (which is hosting this year’s SEC Tournament), No. 14 Missouri and No. 1 Tennessee.
“It’s tough,” Thees said. “Whenever you get your pool of the eight teams you’re playing and the four you’re not, it’s like, ‘OK, here we go.’ We’re going to be playing top-ranked teams week-in and week-out.”
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