Q&A With Head Coach Windy Thees
Jan. 27, 2006
Q. What has been your biggest challenge with starting up the first-ever softball program at the University of Memphis?
A. The biggest challenge was trying to create a team where you are bringing in all these different players with different backgrounds and different personalities in hopes that they will bond together and form a true team. To really be a team, you have to have players who will get along and who are able to work with each other and have similar competitive spirits.
Q. When you bring in recruits now, you have players who can sell your program for you. When you were starting out trying to piece this team together, how tough was it just being you and maybe one other assistant?
A. It was a fun time in the spring. I spent every minute of every recruiting trip with the players on this team. There was only one player that we signed late in the summer that I did not personally take around and show them everything. My goal was to sell them what attracted me to Memphis. It is a great city and a great university with a lot of history. It has a very successful athletic program with dedicated coaches and it is on the way up. You always want to catch a university on the way up athletically, and I just tried to let them know that the new softball program is something that this department is committed to and the fact that they will always be marked as the "first-ever" softball team. They will always be a part of history here and will be responsible for laying the groundwork for the future of Lady Tiger softball.
A. I was able to hire great assistant coaches who are not just like me, but who complement my strengths and weaknesses pretty well. Dave is very analytical and loves to break things down. He has a tremendous understanding of the swing in both baseball and softball, he can explain things to the girls, and he is willing to try different ways to get the point across. Some things work with some players, and other players need a different approach, and he knows how to work with each individual player to maximize their potential. He also works with the defense, as well. I would say his strength is that he loves to watch film and see the tendencies of our players and take that and make them better.
Marla is great because she adds that young energy. This is her first coaching job, and she has been amazing. She was able to help with a lot of the recruiting trips. She is so willing to jump in with both feet. She was also a pitcher, so she has a great understanding of the pitcher's mindset. In college, so much of pitching is mental, and she does a great job of working with our pitchers, mentally and physically.
Q. Now that we have talked about your assistants, what would you say are your strengths?
A. I'd say that the biggest secret that I have figured out is that I don't know everything and I like to learn through other people and see how they do things. I like to learn from my assistants and how they see things. All of my coaching is really a compilation of all the great coaches I have had as a player. I am also pretty laid back, but detail-oriented. I like to see things done right and with the intensity that is needed to be successful.
Q. What do you expect will be the strengths and weaknesses of the team this year?
A. The weakness, if you want to call it that, will be that we are going to have an up-and-down year. With a young team, you are going to go through stretches where they don't know who they are and they don't have that identity because we don't have a history. We don't have any traditions that we are sticking to - we are creating them. It is going to be important to see how we handle tough losses and overcome them. But, the biggest strength is tied to that same aspect because we have all these players and they don't know any better. They have all come from successful programs, so all they know is winning. That is what they know how to do, and I hope that they can translate that into wins here.
Q. What was your priority in setting up your first-ever schedule?
A. I set this schedule before I ever signed our first player. I wanted challenges, but I also wanted there to be realistic opportunities for us to be successful. I looked for some teams that maybe were rebuilding or have struggled in the past and were trying to find their identity. That would be a better match-up for us because we are trying to find our identity as well. But then, we also wanted to play teams that have had success and have tradition in their programs like Notre Dame and UL-Lafayette to see where we want to go and what we want to achieve.
Q. What do you expect will be the biggest challenge entering Conference USA action?
A. We are going to face challenges that every team is going to face because it is a new conference. I am glad that we are coming in the first year that the league will be realigned because a lot of teams won't know about the other teams. I think there is already a hierarchy established of really competitive and good teams that are in this conference. We are just going to have to climb the ladder.
Q. How excited are you about the construction of the U of M softball stadium, and how important will it be for future recruiting?
A. I am very excited to see the construction begin. We have been working through the design-phase, and it is really going to be an amazing facility. We expect that it will be one of the best in the conference and one of the best in the southeast. I think we reached high in setting the design for this stadium. This will be huge for recruiting because it will show how committed this university is to this program.
Q. Can you break down your team by position, starting with your pitchers?
A. We have a pretty set depth chart right now, and we are really lucky because we are two-deep in so many positions. We have five pitchers on our roster, and three of them are a bit more seasoned than the others. First, we have Nicki Johnson who is just oozing with success. She has won a national title on the junior college level and has been very successful on the mound. She is definitely a leader. She is the type of player who is not going to get rattled and goes out there every time to do her job.
Then, there is Jenna Kubesch who comes from my old school (Georgia College and State) and brings that knowledge of what I want from her. She brings a lot of movement and competitiveness. She can also hit very well, and can play first base. She is one of those players who can help you in every aspect of the game.
We also have Leila Dolfo, who was one of the top 35 pitchers out of the state of California last year. She has grown so much just in one semester. She will contribute daily to our team whether it is as a lead-off hitter, as a shortstop, as an outfielder, or on the mound. She is one of those athletes that every coach loves, but get frustrated about because they don't know where to put her. She can play any position on the field. Pitching-wise, she is our hardest thrower and has nasty movement.
Lyndsey Sterling is our local product out of Atoka, Tenn., who has good movement and good location. We are just trying to work on her development. Movement, power and consistency are the three tools Lyndsey will be building throughout the season. She has come a long way this fall as well.
We got a gift from volleyball in Melissa Nance, and now have a six foot, two inch pitcher on the mound. She has been off the mound for two years and just has to get back into the swing of things. She is solid and has been working really hard to get to where we need her. She can also play either one of our corners. She is learning faster than most players, and I feel she will contribute this year.
Q. Now can you break down your infield?
Lindsey Pridgen just joined us in January and will be at shortstop. She also played for a successful program at Pima CC. She is so steady and will always make the play. She makes everything look so easy. People probably won't look at her as a great shortstop because she doesn't make flashy plays. Every play for her looks so easy. She is very consistent. Leila also played in the fall at shortstop, but it makes a coach a little nervous having a pitcher at shortstop, so we will probably throw her in the outfield a bit.
Tori Gross is an unbelievable second baseman. She can cover ground from first to second and get to everything. She has quick feet and good hands.
Laura Mahoney, who is another local product, is coming off a knee injury and is almost at full speed. She is also playing second and could play shortstop if she had to. She is very versatile.
Q. How do you feel about the outfield?
A. We are young in the outfield, but I like that we have so much speed. Cara Stiles will anchor us and be the leader out there. She is loud and can direct traffic very well. She also covers a tremendous amount of ground in the field for us.
Leila Dolfo will see some time in center field or right field. She is an athlete with a strong arm that can get to everything.
Leandra Hines is in left field. She catches everything and is working on her technique. She is like a big vacuum out there.
Brittany Gooch is also a speedster who covers a lot of ground. She is just working on her consistency. I think she is going to get consistent with age.
Kristin Chrestman is a transfer who plays all three spots in the field, and can also play in the infield if we need her. She has amazing pop on her bat. She has a lot of power and I am excited to have her for the next three years.
Q. And finally, what about behind the plate?
A. The only place that we don't have a lot of depth is at catcher. Kimmi Hayden's strength is that she blocks so well. She knows how to handle pitchers. When you have five different pitchers that you are working with, it takes time to get to know their tendencies.
Kara Ross is also going to see time behind the plate, and Tori Gross and Kristin Chrestman will be our emergency catchers. They have been catching all fall and spring and will be ready to get back there if we need them.