Photo courtesy of Derrick Tuskan, SDSU Athletics
San Diego State softball started practice last week as it will attempt to go after its eighth Mountain West Conference championship this season.
The Daily Aztec caught up with Kathy Van Wyk about 2021 expectations as well as naming a head coach in-waiting prior to beginning her 25th season as head coach.
The Daily Aztec: How are you doing and how is the program doing?
Kathy Van Wyk: “Obviously, everything is different and as coaches we’re all planners and we’d like to have everything planned out for us to adjust from there. Right now, that planning process is the difficult part. We preach it every day to our athletes, ‘You have to be flexible and roll with the punches,’ and that’s what we’re all trying to do. The players are doing great. They are staying healthy and for the most part, families are staying healthy and our kids are anxious to be back on the field and playing.”
DA: You started practicing last week. How does it feel to be back on the field?
KVW: “It’s fantastic. There is so much uncertainty and we didn’t know what we were going to be able to do. Just to be able to be back on the field and doing what we love is number one. We’re enjoying that tremendously. There’s still uncertainty and everyone knows it. We don’t know what the spring is going to bring us. We’re out there, we’re there together, we’re playing the game we love, we’re able to stay healthy while we’re doing it. The kids are ecstatic and I am really looking forward to this year.”
DA: What does it mean to have junior Maggie Balint and senior Marissa Moreno at the front end of your rotation again this year?
KVW: “We’re extremely excited about our pitching squad. Not only Marissa and Maggie, but (senior Hannah Johnson) did such a great job last year where we did not know what to expect from Hannah. With those three leading the way this year, we’re really excited. Maggie is looking good. I think she’s excited because she’s had two years of doing nothing, almost and last year was getting a taste before it ended. She’s really looking forward to getting back into competition. Marissa is a super senior and you always hope fifth-year players come back with more maturity and more know-how of what they would’ve done differently if they hadn’t had that extra year, so now we get the chance to find out.”
DA: You bring up Johnson, how important is it to have that third starter in a three-game series?
KVW: “It’s huge and right now this year, we’re going to have a lot more doubleheaders, so it’s going to be very important to us. Hannah is just consistent. The beauty of what she does is she’s always around the plate, she throws strikes, she brings a lot of confidence to the team and she ended up last year with as many innings and a better earned run average than all of our pitchers. With having doubleheaders, we’re really going to need to have a third and we’re going to need a fourth. (Second-year freshman Karina Faasisila) is going to have to take more of a role.”
DA: How have you and your assistant coaches been able to connect with the players and each other during the pandemic?
KVW: “Well, obviously we do everything by Zoom or Facetime and we have a really good plan, especially for us. I think it is important for us to see them individually and as a group. They are kids and want to know someone cares about them and approves of what they’re doing with their life and knows what’s going on with their family. So we, as coaches, really try to touch base on an individual basis. We’ve been meeting on Zoom as a team since September, trying to do as much as we can in terms of team building. Those are things we miss out on during practices is team building, sitting around in the clubhouse and getting to know each other. We don’t get to do that this year.”
DA: During the pandemic, the biggest headline from your program had to be naming a head coach in waiting to assistant coach Stacey Nuveman-Deniz. What does it mean to the program that the next head coach is already lined up?
KVW: “It makes me feel great because I’m blessed to have this opportunity for 25 years to be with one program and in our business, that doesn’t happen very often. My heart and soul is in this program and to know that I can hand the reins over to Coach Nuveman is huge. It is very reassuring that my work is going to continue and our traditions that we’ve built as a program are going to continue. I couldn’t find a better person to hand it off to. Stacey has had numerous opportunities to go to other places and make a lot more money. But, she’s chosen to keep her family and her life here in San Diego and I feel very blessed to have her and hand over the reins whenever I’m ready to someone who is more than ready.”
DA: With no games being played and less time to practice, how much more time have you had to watch film or recruit?
KVW: “That’s about all we can do. Obviously we can’t go out and recruit. The majority of recruiting has to take place virtually. There’s games out there we can watch and we get online and do as much as we can with watching film or watching games that are being live streamed from different places. California is not open, but Arizona is so we know a lot of the California high school players are in Arizona, Texas, places like that. We’re going back, spending more time on film and preparing for teams coming up, technique-wise.”
DA: You are entering your 25th season as the head coach of this program. What does it mean that you have been the head coach for a quarter of a century?
KVW: “Well, it means I’m old. It means that I’m incredibly blessed to go into coaching, first of all, and to have an influence on young lives is a huge thing. But then to be able to stay in one place for as long as I have, in our line of work, doesn’t happen very often. It is very rewarding. I can be comfortable, settle with my family. I can feel like I am appreciative by the people around us and they continue to help us grow as a program. I feel very blessed.”
DA: As your team starts practicing, what is the mindset for this team in 2021?
KVW: “I am going to stick my neck out where I usually take the stand of optimistically cautious. But I feel as good about this team as far as the talent goes as we’ve ever had. I could almost safely say that we have more talent than we have ever had. Now, we just have to hope the coaches don’t screw them up. But we need to find a way to take advantage of the leadership we have because we have a great group of leaders. We have an older, more mature team and to go with the experience, the mindset is ‘let’s get ready to go out and win’ and we know we’ve got that ability and we just have to prove it on the field.”