Friday, May 18, 2012

Edwards sets the standard for Hofstra softball

At first listen, Flying Dutchwomen softball coach Bill Edwards is the most vanilla of speakers, someone who talks about staying in a routine and taking everything one day at a time and not getting too high or too low.

But Edwards' words are a lot more than just recitations from someone who has read The Great Book Of Sports Cliches. They are words of experience from someone who has spent five decades in coaching and has modified his approach the last 23 years so that it is decidedly different than the one he used as a football and hockey coach earlier in his career.

It has been a wildly successful approach: The Flying Dutchwomen begin play in their 13th NCAA Tournament under Edwards—all since 1993—tonight at UCLA when they play the host Bruins.

"I've had to adjust to softball, which was different than when I coached football and different when I coached some hockey," Edwards said this week. "Coaching those sports, you needed the energy, you needed a fire, you needed the competitive spirit. You needed them to get a little bit excited—overly excited, because they're all contact sports and you want to do the things that you have to do to be successful in those sports.

"In our game, we have to relax. We have to be in the same tenor, the same feeling of confidence, the same mode in order to perform. We can't get too high because then we start throwing the ball away. We can't get excited because then we overrun a groundball. We can't get excited because then we start swinging at pitches outside the zone. So just keep everything the same, keep them relaxed, keep them focused now hat they have to do as individual student-athletes."

Edwards' words are also those of someone who manages to create chemistry by getting everyone to, quite literally, check their egos at the door. The all-day rains Tuesday forced the Dutchwomen to practice in the bubble near the tennis courts, and after practice, Edwards went ahead of his players and opened the door to the Physical Fitness Center. He held the door open as pairs of teammates walked through toting equipment.

The players were pictures of symmetry, with the first person to walk through the door silently stepping to the right as the person behind her took control and guided the equipment and her teammate through the other set of doors and into the PFC's gym.

"They're not afraid to get their hands dirty," Edwards said. "They're not afraid to pick up screens. They're not afraid to carry stuff. They're very receptive to the things we ask them to do. No one ever rolls their eyes. It's just the way Hofstra softball is. And it's the kind of kid that we recruit: Hard-working, put a light on the miner hat, bring your lunch bucket to work. That’s everything that we want our kids to be."

Most impressively, Edwards gets the Dutchwomen to focus on the tiniest and most immediate of objectives, yet also understands how important it is to current players to measure up to their predecessors at Hofstra.

This year marked the 21st straight season in which the Dutchwomen won either the regular season championship or conference tournament and the 13th time in the last 15 years they won the tournament. The Dutchwomen didn't win the conference tournament in 2009, which they responded to in 2010 by winning 21 of 23 CAA games (including the tournament) and nearly forcing an elimination game against Arizona in a regional.

The Dutchwomen were upset by Georgia State in last year's CAA tournament. The reaction: Hofstra enters the NCAA Tournament an absurd 34-1 in its last 35 games. The Dutchwomen have won 17 in a row and just completed a perfect CAA season in which they won all 21 regular season games before sweeping three tournament games last week at Hofstra Softball Stadium.

So rest assured these Dutchwomen know the opportunity they have beginning tonight. A College World Series is the one thing missing from Edwards' resume, but the Dutchwomen have a legitimate shot at history thanks to record-breaking ace Olivia Galati (30-5, 0.90 ERA, a 331/22 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and their potent offense (.301 team batting average).

"I think this team really wanted to—and I don't like this word—revenge [for] last year," Edwards said. "I don't like that word, because I don't think it has a place in our athletics, but they really wanted it. They want to establish their identity. The seniors wanted to have their banner on the wall. They know the tradition of our program. They don't like to have the tradition taken from us.

"So I think they were very much aware of what they had to do in order to get it done."

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