Photo by Brigham Berthold
Just under two months into TJ Hubbard’s first season as the head coach of the UVU softball team, the Wolverines were one win shy of matching the previous season’s win total of nine despite having played only 23 games. Over the previous two seasons, the team had a combined record of 27-84 and a WAC record of 6-24 before former head coach Nikki Palmer stepped down and left UVU for a coaching job at the University of California Riverside. It’s just the beginning of what Hubbard sees as a years-long process, but it’s a promising first step.
“I think they’re performing very well based on some of the numbers they had last year and the numbers we have this year,” said Hubbard. “Obviously, there’s been some progression and some development. I think they’re playing very competitively; I think they’re playing very hard.”
Senior third baseman Brittney Vansway, the team’s leading hitter with a .397 batting average and 38 RBIs, saw the coaching change as an opportunity to help create a new team and culture and to let go of the past.
“Being a senior and having those tough past seasons, this year I want to do the best that we’ve ever done all four years,” said Vansway. “No one wants to play in the past, so that’s the standard that we’ve had.”
Vansway was one of two Wolverines selected to the preseason All-WAC team, the other being senior pitcher Bailey Moore. While Moore has struggled to start the year with a 1-6 record and a 5.06 ERA, Vansway has delivered, carrying the offense at times. She was named WAC hitter of the week for the week ending March 12 after hitting .615 with 10 RBIs and four home runs en route to UVU’s title at the Nevada Classic, where the Wolverines went 3-1. It was one of three weekly WAC awards that have been given to a UVU player this season, the others given to freshman second baseman Lyndsay Steverson and junior pitcher Lauren Frailey. Vansway credits the progress that the team has made this season to the culture change that has been headed up by Hubbard in his first season.
“[Hubbard] came in here knowing what he wanted to work with us on and he’s set a new culture here where all of us are put in and we’re into the process,” said Vansway. “We’ve had some downs but other than that all our games have been pretty close and we’ve been doing pretty good with him.”
Hubbard has taken a long-term approach to rebuilding the program, knowing that turnarounds don’t happen overnight. He’s tried to take the focus away from the results of the game and the team’s record and shift it to making sure the team prepares right. In that regard, Hubbard said, the rebuild has been more of a mindset change than a physical one, trying to get the team to believe in small bits and pieces at a time and build on that.
“A culture is created whether you intend for it to or not. You either allow it to happen or you require it to happen,” said Hubbard. “Some of the things that we’re trying to stay focused on, some of the things that we’re trying to build on, are more of a process-oriented mindset. It’s more to the practice and preparation versus just going and playing. You’ve been able to see that transfer to the players.”
During this year’s conference play, the Wolverines will be leaning on their offensive production, which Hubbard sees as the team’s strength.
“We have to be in a position to score runs and continue to threaten every inning offensively,” said Hubbard. “That’s our game. That’s what we’ve found is our strength and that’s the thing we need to build every series off of.”