FULLERTON, Calif. - After a busy fall for the Cal State Fullerton softball program, FullertonTitans.com sat down with second-year head coach Kelly Ford to talk about the program and its people.
"Let's start with this, I don't think that Cal State Fullerton has ever had a roster this large," Ford opened up the conversation with this astute observation. Currently the roster size lists 27 names, but by the spring there will be 30 players eligible. While not all will travel, they will all compete.
"Number one reason we have a roster this large is to create a competitive environment. Every day, every single spot had at least two athletes competing. We have five pitchers and three catchers and that adds up to this large roster. I like to create those game situations and we can do that every day in practice," she explained.
What did you learn in the fall that you maybe didn't know about your team before you started your team practices?
Ford: Truthfully, how much paperwork there is to having a roster this large! Seriously here's something that I think has improved tremendously. We had a great showing last year in the circle, but we're going to have so much more support at the pitcher's spot. It's so dynamic because the five pitchers have completely different styles. But, the most amazing thing is they're a staff. They work and push each other. Our coaching staff has done a great job of defining their roles and they all come back to me and share how much they respect and learn from each other, so there's magic going on.
Dezzy (Desiree Ybarra, pitcher) was out healing from an injury this fall, but she did a great job of mentoring and working with younger pitchers. It was great to see her teach the game and I think the ability to do that helps you elevate your game. But, the most amazing thing was how much they shared, how much younger pitchers valued the feedback.
What about the injuries?
Ford: Dezzy is back and that's great. Carissa (Carissa Turang, second base) is out and that's a huge loss, she'll be redshirting. We've had to adjust our infield but even that's been good, with that big roster we got a chance to move other people around and that was really an awesome experience for us. We have depth at each infield position that we may not have known we had. Of course we had other people at different times who needed to rest for one reason or another, but Carissa is the only one who will be out when we start our season.
Positions where you were pleasantly surprised?
Ford: Our transfer player Missy Taukeiaho is outstanding and will play third. Sam (Samantha Galarza) moves over to second because of Carissa's injury. E, Eliza Crawford has worked so well as E moved over to learn first base, from third, but corner to corner she has done a great job of transitioning to be a great player at first. With Gabby Aragon playing short we have a solid infield. But, like I said each of them has competition at every spot and will compete every day in the spring for playing time. There were so many great accomplishments by individual players over the course of our fall season that I really could highlight every player. I'd rather say this: overall I've been pleasantly surprised with how well each team member adjusted, how much commitment they're willing to give to this team by learning other positions and by competing hard.
You're a young team, what are your thoughts about that?
Ford: I think for this year and next year we have such great youth that's hungry and excited to grow and to put this program back on the map in a bigger sense. Leadership comes from all class ranks, too. These players want to be the benchmark for creating that success. These players want the national stage. They have bought in and so to think that we have most of them for at least another year, is just a really exciting thing for our staff.
About your staff, you have everyone back as you start your second year. Can you talk a little bit about what each one of them brings to this program?
Ford: My staff is a source of peace for me, really. They are so experienced. They each have their area of expertise. Really, Dee Dee Kingsbury or Jorge Araujo could each be a head coach and so to have that experience gives me great peace of mind. Jorge oversees the defense and our recruiting and that's just been so powerful. He treats these athletes with such respect and they feel that and the respect goes right back. He is consistent emotionally and is a constant for them. He's like our field rat and is always willing to work with our players whenever they want that.
Dee Dee may honestly be the best pitching coach in the country. I seriously feel that way. She is so knowledgeable about the game and can work within each athlete's abilities to get the best out of each of them. She has a little extra hop in her step this year because she's working with five pitchers who are a talented group and they're doing new and innovative things every day. Dee Dee also runs the office, she's our checkpoint for so much about how things go on within Cal State Fullerton, too.
Then, we have April Frazier as our volunteer assistant and she brings great overall experience, having played at Oklahoma. She takes a lead in our outfield and can step in to do so many things since she was such a versatile player herself.
With the bonus of Pam Newton as our student assistant while she's finishing her undergraduate degree, we are just flat out lucky. Pam brings an insane amount of experience. We can talk philosophically and I really value the time she can spend with us. I am able to bounce things off of her and it inspires me as a coach.
And the thing I love about this staff is how much each person is a role model for these athletes. The staff is made up of character people.
What is your recruiting approach?
Ford: There are so many great things happening at Cal State Fullerton. Under Dr. Garcia, Dr. Eanes and Jim Donovan's leadership things on campus and in the athletic department maybe have never been better. We definitely take a local angle in our recruiting. We have the best players in the country right here. And, our athletes got recruited by programs all over the country, but they wanted to stay right here at home and play in front of their families. I love it. There are a few things we can really sell about becoming a Titan, obviously our facilities and field are outstanding. When we go after our athletes we're doing our homework. If you play for us and you're from here, your parents, family and friends can easily see you play most of your career right here. We're sitting here in December and it's 70 degrees and there flat out aren't a lot of places that can honestly say those things.
Then, you add to that the things that are happening on the University level. As I mentioned, our leadership is amazing. Our business program totally helps sell us. We have a number of student-athletes interested in that. Our physical therapy, athletic training programs, or kinesiology major help sell Cal State Fullerton to our student-athletes as does our education, or teaching programs. With Courtney Snyder, who's working with us as a an undergraduate assistant as she's completing her nursing program, there's an increased interest in that program as well. It's hard. There are a lot of time commitment issues and the student-athlete who wants to pursue something like that has to really be dedicated. The fact that Courtney has done it and so well is really a credit to her. We are definitely interested in recruiting players who demonstrate that kind of commitment.
On Jim Donovan's leadership style
Ford: Jim is hands down a leader and the right man for the job. You want to work harder for him and he pushes you. Any time I leave his presence I take away something really valuable that helps me be a better coach and makes me want to do more for this team, this program and this university. He is the perfect Athletic Director fit for me.
On the strength of schedule
Ford: It's simple, you've got to play the best to be the best. It really is as simple as that. We want the best environment we can possibly play in for our student-athletes and fans and that includes playing the best teams that we can. You know people ask me why and I'm really surprised by the question. I think to myself, "Why wouldn't you want that?" I get that on paper you like to try to schedule strategic wins, but that can backfire on you, too. I believe you schedule the best teams you can, you work hard everyday and you go out and let the game take care of itself. If you want to compete on a national stage you absolutely have to do that anyway, so why not start with your regular season?
On activities in the fall
Ford: Our team genuinely likes one another. We enjoy spending time doing things for the community, had an absolute blast hosting events like the first ever alumni slow pitch game, or cleaning up the beach. We enjoy holiday parties and celebrations and all the team-building and sports psychology efforts we do as a group. That's another foundation that we will continue to build on when we recruit members of the Titan family, whether that's staff or players. I always think to myself, "Is this a person I want to spend time with?"
Our X-factor is not that we will match up however that plays out, pitchers for pitchers, offense for offense, but the X-factor is how we bond as comrades. We work hard with Jen Schumaker (sports psychologist) to prepare now for the craziness of the season. Balancing everything, how to handle conflict, how to manage your time, how to set these goals but stay in balance in order to achieve them. And, we work hard to build that sense for everyone.
Final thoughts about the fall
Ford: I would like to highlight one accomplishment by a staff member that kind of summarizes what we really are all about in the Titan softball family. Dee Dee Kingsbury finished her master's degree and graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA in educational leadership and physical education from Concordia University this fall. She did a fascinating research study on the correlation between overall athletic department budgets and softball teams that make it to the WCWS and it was eye opening. Her final project—Creating a Successful College Softball Program—is something that she built in theory for this program. Now, it's something in the real world that we are working very hard to create. The kind of commitment it took to return to school and to do that well is the perfect example of the kind of person we want in our program.
Cal State Fullerton opens its season on Friday, Feb. 7 hosting the Easton Tournament and will face Loyola Marymount at 1 p.m. before welcoming the defending National Champion Oklahoma Sooners (Ford's alma mater) to Anderson Family Field at 6 p.m.