Why not us? Confident, fun-loving approach raises Bulldog softball above outside expectations
By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director
When Todd LaVelle greeted his first team as Concordia University head softball coach, he did not see a seventh-place squad. His group of 24 young women soon blazed through fall ball and quickly developed a preposterous confidence that isn’t supposed to be ingrained in a team coming off a 14-25 season.
The Bulldogs mocked their preseason placement of seventh in the GPAC by toppling then No. 10 Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) on March 10 in the season’s opening game. The team’s motto, “why not us?” suddenly had teeth.
“I wanted to raise the bar higher than it was,” LaVelle said. “If you’re going to do something, do it right. It started with the coaching staff. I put high expectations on myself and the coaches and then the players. Let’s do the little things right. The wins will take care of itself.
“Honestly from day one after seeing the talent level and meeting with them, I knew this could happen.”
A new swagger was clearly evident when LaVelle’s bunch won all nine games in Tucson, Ariz., to open the season, becoming the first in program history to start a year 9-0. That run included several improbable rallies and walk-off wins that created an aura of near invincibility.
There have been some recent bumps in the road since, but at 24-9 overall and 9-5 in GPAC play, the Bulldogs are still within shouting distance of first-place Morningside. All their goals are in front of them. Why not Concordia?
“We started it after the Super Bowl,” said senior catcher Amber Topil of the team’s new battle cry. “(Seattle Seahawks quarterback) Russell Wilson’s dad always told him, ‘why not you?’ With our team since we were bottom of the pack, we thought why not us? Why not prove that we can be pretty good.”
The Bulldogs have soared back up the league standings through LaVelle’s confident approach, senior leadership and quick adaptation from a talented class of newcomers. Senior pitcher Amanda Beeson has been off the charts, particularly in the last couple weeks, and new faces like junior college transfer and third baseman Rebecca Walker have been mainstays in the starting lineup.
It’s a lineup that looks considerably different than the one that ended the 2013 season. Beeson, first baseman Molly Madsen, shortstop Shelby Morose and Topil and second baseman/pitcher Julia Tyree are the only holdovers who remain regulars. LaVelle has filled the rest of his lineup with the likes of freshmen (OF/2B/SS) Palmer Bosanko, (OF) Brittany Hudler, (CF) Diana Mendoza and Walker, the transfer, and junior Regan Doiel (2013 redshirt).
The jelling of old and new did not take long.
“It helped this fall that they saw some success even though it was fall ball,” LaVelle said. “Then going down to Tucson and coming out 9-0, we were riding that wave of confidence coming into the season. The girls know that we can win. We’ve beaten some rated teams. I think that makes it easier when you have success early and you can ride that wave.”
The win over Olivet Nazarene, now 32-2 and ranked No. 7 nationally, still carries plenty of weight and significance. It signaled a quick change in the way this Bulldog team would be perceived. Concordia hastily moved from preseason seventh in the conference to No. 1 in the official GPAC ratings, surprising even some on the team.
“No not really, especially since we played Olivet our very first game,” Topil answered when asked if she expected such a rousing start to 2014. “I think that was a good place for us to start because we had nothing to lose. We just went in with all we had. Once we beat Olivet we were like, ‘we actually are kind of good.’”
Topil also cites the team’s chemistry as another factor in its success, saying this squad is closer than any that she’s been part of in her four years at Concordia. LaVelle has made certain that his student-athletes bond beyond the softball diamond. He stresses the need for a team that plays the game loosely.
“I think what this team has done well is they have brought the fun back into the game,” LaVelle said. “It’s not a job. They’re not just here on scholarship. They’re here to have fun and softball’s a fun game. I can’t wait to get in the van and go to the next away game.”
Those van rides are something to behold. Picture the musical Pitch Perfect (a team favorite) at 65 miles per hour. Even LaVelle’s young teenage son Broc likes to get into the act – dancing, swaying and all (think “Teach Me How to Dougie”). Of course there is a Twitter conversation involved (#CUNEsoftballtunes).
And there is one rule: every third song must be something that Coach enjoys.
“Every game we have to listen to ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ because Coach loves Journey,” Topil says. “We belt that one as loud as we possibly can.”
LaVelle even took an extra trip around the block in Seward so that the team could finish singing “Cotton-eyed Joe” on the way back from Wednesday’s doubleheader at Nebraska Wesleyan.
Whether rocking in a team van on the way to a road game or getting after it on the diamond, these girls are having a ball. It’s an approach they hope can help carry them to new heights.
“It goes back to ‘why not us?’” LaVelle said. “There is no limit for this team. When they play as one and all aspects of their game are clicking, they could go a long ways. There’s no doubt. They’ve proved it.”
17 April 2014
Junior third baseman Rebecca Walker is one of several new faces making a big impact for Concordia softball in 2014.
First-year head coach Todd LaVelle and the Bulldog softball team have promoted a "why not us?" approach this season.