By: CASEY MCDONALD
Spring is for a new semester, blooming flowers and ball fields.
With week one in the books, students are now settling into their new classes with ease. As classes settle down, the gym gains momentum as IU South Bend’s spring sports continue conditioning and preparing for the upcoming schedule.
Head Coach Brittney Lightfoot leads IUSB’s newest addition to the athletic department. Lightfoot has a passionate personality when it comes to coaching student athletes.
Lightfoot played the game for about 18 years before becoming a coach for six years. Starting her seventh season as a coach, first as a head coach, she is joined by a fellow Bethel College alumna, Assistant Coach Natalie Newell in her second year as a coach.
Lightfoot likes the phrase “baptized by fire,” because as a new team to the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC), the Titans are walking in unknown and without knowledge of what skills they truly possess.
Both coaches strive for success on and off the diamond, that’s why they push academics before statistics. They also drive for a relationship between all of the Titans in order to make their chemistry on the field stronger.
Mike Huling is a second year coach for IU South Bend’s baseball program. Huling played baseball at and graduated from the University of Southern Indiana where he was an outfielder. There, Huling’s team also won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) D-II National Championship in 2010 against University of California San Diego. As a coach, he spent two seasons at NCAA D-I Bowling Green State University as the hitting coach, “where I was fortunate to claim the 2013 MAC [Mid American Conference] Championship. In the same year we were placed in the Louisville Regional with them, Oklahoma State and Miami,” Huling said.
Following that, Huling was the hitting coach at Holy Cross College. “Becoming a head coach has been something I have worked for my whole life,” Huling said.
Both teams are excited for this season, ready to take on new teams and new obstacles. Freshman softball pitcher Nichole Kirkpatrick has been playing softball since she was eight. Playing for all different teams ranging from school to travel league, she received Second Team All Conference for pitching her junior year and First Team All Conference as well as Third Team All State for pitching her senior year in high school.
This year, the baseball team only had 12 returning players out of the new 33-man roster. Andy Ross is one of the four freshmen pitchers for IU South Bend, and out of the six left-handers, he is the only first year. Ross has played baseball for his whole life, he said, from tee ball to college.
John Ward is the second of the Titans’ four freshman pitchers, who is one of ten right handed pitchers. In high school, Ward was captain of his team and also their most valuable player.
“Throughout my high school career I threw six no-hitters,” Ward said.
Sophomore Spencer McCool is an Outfielder who has been playing since the age of four. He graduated from Pendleton Heights High School. He was selected three times for All-County Team, once for First Team All Conference. In his first season at IUSB McCool was awarded the Gold Glove in the conference.
Last season’s baseball program ended 21-30 with a .412 win average. Expectations and goals have risen with the new coaching staff and players as they prepare to take the field this year.
Some of the players want to win conference and make it to the postseason, Ross said, “I expect our team to compete with anybody this year.” Coach Huling used the phrase “never have a panic button.” He wants the team to learn how to overcome adversity any time it is handed to them. “Adversity seems to be quite the popular subject in college sports, but the good teams overcome it by working together day in and day out,” he said.
For the softball program, it is all about getting their feet wet. Kirkpatrick wants everyone to do their best.
“I just hope everyone does what they can, and hopefully we can get some wins.” Coach Lightfoot said that she wants to “establish a culture, not of winning, but of teamwork.” Being the first season, the team is adventuring into the CCAC together, taking each matchup head on and learning from each play.
The baseball team, this season, have brought new faces to the coaching staff. First season coaches include Jon Koepf as one of the assistant coaches who also is the recruiting coordinator, Chris Woodruff as the other assistant coach, and Matt Schwitz as the pitching coach. Being one of the returning players, McCool said that he is comfortable with a “new” head coach because he was the assistant coach last year.
“We work harder this year, but it’s worth it,” McCool said.
Huling said that this year the coaching staff is great. “Our coaching staff is young, and that’s exactly what I wanted,” He said. “All four coaches are on the same wavelength, and that really benefits the guys and the program when you can have that.”
For the softball team, everyone is meeting new faces for the first time. “The past couple months have been busy,” Kirkpatrick said. “We have workouts and lifting and practices that we do, but it makes us stronger individually, but also as a team.”
The baseball team got a taste of the teams they will compete against last season, so now they can take each team with a different style. Ward and Ross both agreed that Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and Judson are the two toughest matchups this season. But all conference games are important and tough, McCool said. “The teams we play in Florida are tough too,” he added.
Win or lose, it is all about the love of the game. Both teams are looking forward to an exceptional year of working hard and racking up the “Ws”. With a fresh new look and attitude for both teams, the IUSB Titans Baseball and Softball programs are in full swing. The first game of the baseball season is a home opener against University of Rio Grande on Feb. 18, and for softball it’s a conference double header versus St. Xavier on March 22. Stay up to date with all highlights and upcoming games with the Preface.