LaVelle resigns head softball post; a look back

By Jacob Knabel on Jun. 6, 2018 in Softball

SEWARD, Neb. – Todd LaVelle has announced his resignation from the position of head softball coach at Concordia University, effective immediately. He cited a need to focus his attention on outside business interests as the reason for his decision. LaVelle wrapped up his tenure with the Bulldogs during the week of May 21. LaVelle spent five seasons as a collegiate head coach within his hometown of Seward.

A Wayne State College alum, LaVelle was officially named head softball coach on June 13, 2013. Said LaVelle at the time, “I am truly blessed to be appointed the next head softball coach at Concordia University. Growing up in Seward I've always had the utmost respect for the athletes, professors and coaches that made up Bulldog Nation.”

With an overall record of 146-92 since arriving at Concordia, LaVelle presided over the winningest five-year stretch in the history of the school’s softball program. LaVelle made an immediate splash, taking over a program that went 14-25 in 2013 and leading it to a 32-16 campaign and its first-ever berth in the opening round of the national tournament in 2014. A year later, the Bulldogs upset their way to a GPAC tournament title and a second-straight appearance at the national tournament. In that 2015 season, Concordia also won a national tournament game for the first time.

That 2015 season will be long remembered for the workhorse pitching performances of then freshman Michaela Woodward, who covered all 39.2 GPAC tournament innings in the circle for the Bulldogs. Behind Woodward, the fightin’ LaVelles toppled Morningside (then a five-time defending GPAC tournament champion) in the GPAC Championship Series. Said LaVelle afterwards, “Obviously it feels tremendous. Again, I’m so proud of these girls … They grew up. All tournament long we started four freshmen, two sophomores, a junior and two seniors. They jelled together and Woodward pitched so well.”

The lasting memory from the 2014 season was delivered by then senior catcher Amber Topil. Not much of anything had been expected of LaVelle’s first team, which managed to tie for third place after being picked to finish seventh in the GPAC. The season appeared to be on life support on May 1 when Concordia dropped its opening game at the GPAC tournament, 9-1 versus Midland. Something incredible followed. Sports happened. Ace pitcher Amanda Beeson, Topil and the senior class refused to let it end. “Fightin’ LaVelles” seemed to be an appropriate moniker as it was applied at the time. After one particular game, outfielder Diana Mendoza quipped, “We’re a good fighting team. We’re the fighting LaVelles.”

The Bulldogs won their next three elimination games and suddenly were one victory away from clinching a spot in the national tournament. They needed one more magic moment – and they got it. With a revenge game against Midland tied 8-8 in the bottom of the eighth, Topil drilled a dramatic two-run, walk-off homer. Concordia was headed to nationals. Said Topil at the time, “I got like 1,800 hugs. I just didn’t even know what was going on. I don’t know how I didn’t cry.” Added LaVelle, “There were a lot of tears shed. It was a happy emotion.”

While it fell shy of reaching the national tournament, the 2017 squad may have been LaVelle’s best. Led by first team All-GPAC selections Leah Kalkwarf, Megan Ruppert and Woodward, the Bulldogs piled up 34 wins (second most in school history) and tied for second place in the GPAC standings. A three-year star who graduated after her junior campaign, Woodward broke the program’s single-season record for home runs in her final year on the diamond. She hit her 11th homer of the season in her last collegiate game.

LaVelle coached five different players who earned first team All-GPAC accolades. His finest player may turn out to be Hhana Haro, who seized GPAC Player of the Year accolades as a freshman in 2018. Haro topped the GPAC with a .494 batting average and set new school single-season standards for hits (76) and doubles (20). Said LaVelle, “I knew right there (when I first met her) we had a jewel for a person. When we got on the diamond the next week it was pretty obvious what a special player she was. She just has tremendous quick hands.”

LaVelle’s five-year Concordia tenure was another chapter in a successful coaching career that began in 1993. As head softball coach at Lincoln North Star from 2005 to 2013, LaVelle amassed a mark of 171-91 with three state tournament appearances, including a runner-up finish in 2009. He also coached more than 50 summer select teams over a 20-year period, producing more than 1,500 wins and 12 Amateur Softball Association softball state championship appearances.

Devin Smith, Director of Athletics
We would like to thank Coach LaVelle and his family for the many contributions they made to the members of the Bulldog Softball program and Athletic Department. Coach LaVelle led our softball program to some of the highest levels of competition in the history of the program during his tenure. We are so appreciative and grateful for his time and energies invested. Concordia University will now embark on a national search as we begin a new chapter of Bulldog Softball.

Amber Topil, 2014 graduate
The two biggest things Coach LaVelle did for our team was give us faith and confidence in ourselves as teammates, and he was able to push us beyond what we thought were our limits as softball players. He came in with a complete 180 mindset that Concordia softball wasn't really used to, but was able to get us all on board in order to have a turnaround like that from one year to the next. I remember junior year I ended our season in the seventh inning on a pop up to second base. All I had to do was get a hit to score the runner on third to get our team into the GPAC tournament. A year later our team was seeded third in the GPAC tournament, lost our first game and had to scratch and claw our way into the championship. I think that day I hit better than I ever have as a softball player. Instead of ending our season on a pop up, I had the biggest hit of my career to send us to nationals. A huge part of that was having the confidence and motivation from Coach LaVelle.