Feb. 6, 2012
First-year Rebel head coach Windy Thees came to Oxford with one goal in mind – winning. And while that is the ultimate goal for a coach at any level, Thees believes her plan will deliver a winner at Ole Miss one step at a time.
“I have a business background, so I developed a four-year plan for where I want this program to be,” said Thees, who led Memphis to the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance last season. “We have had some struggles here at Ole Miss, and we are coming up on our 16th year as a program. I asked, ‘where do we want to be in year 20?’ We are addressing that question with the current players. We have to figure out how to maximize the players’ skills and bring out their best. We are searching for the best talent in the country, and the world, to help us excel and climb to the top in the SEC. Our goal is to climb over one team at a time until we are at the top.”
Thees comes to Oxford after a successful 11-year head coaching career that included starting a pair of programs from the ground up at Memphis and Georgia College, a runner-up finish at the NCAA D-II national championships and an NCAA berth last season with the Tigers. With so many accomplishments,
Thees was drawn to Ole Miss by the potential and the challenge of coaching in the SEC.
“I have lived pretty close to Ole Miss for the last six years and obviously have followed the SEC from a far, but I had never been to campus until I came here and interviewed. It is such a wonderful place and the facilities we have at our disposal are awesome. The school, the community and people are first class and I believe it is the most beautiful campus in the country. The potential here is really unlimited. I am so excited to be here.”
Thees is joined on the Ole Miss staff by assistants Julie Meyer and Mike Perniciaro. Meyer served on Thees’ staff at Memphis and was a four-year player at PAC-12 power Cal where she in the 2004 Women’s College World Series. Perniciaro brings seven years of head coaching experience, including the past six seasons as the head man at Wichita State, as well as SEC experience at Auburn and Georgia.
“I am very lucky to have Mike and Julie here at Ole Miss,” said Thees. “Julie has done it all. She called pitches at Cal. She has caught, played first base and has worked with our infield. She is my right-hand person to bounce ideas off of, and she works with hitters. She is a woman of few words, but when she says something, the players know it’s important.
“Mike has a lot of energy and has been in the coaching business for a long time. I have known him for 13 years, and our relationship is great. He has a great philosophy on hitting, and he has always had great hitting teams throughout his career. He has been a head coach, so he knows all the different aspects that go into building a program off the field. He can coach infield, outfield and hitting, but right now he is focusing on our hitters. He has done a great job breaking down each player, figuring out what their tools are and getting them to produce.”
The Rebels’ new staff brings a family atmosphere to the program and are looking for student-athletes that fit the team athletically and academically.
“I think about a student-athlete as a whole person,” said Thees, who played collegiately at Florida State. “Of course, we want athletes that have power, speed and that can produce runs. We also need players that can get on base, and I love lefty slappers and players that love to steal bases. We want run producers that can get a ton of RBIs. We want a good mix of all of those things. Putting all those characteristics together will make a great athlete, but we are also looking for a player who will excel in the classroom and in the community.
“Their softball career only lasts for four years. After that, you hang up your cleats and your glove. We want to build memories that will last the rest of their lives. We are committed to giving them a first-class education here at Ole Miss. We want these kids to be well-rounded citizens.”
The Rebels’ experience in the circle took a hit entering this season as senior pitchers Brittany Barnhill and Lindsey Perry, who combined to pitch 209.1 innings a year a ago, graduated. Ole Miss does return senior Kendall Bruning, who started a team-high 26 games last season, and junior reserve Erinn Jayjohn, who appeared in four games last year. The duo is joined by senior Kelly Chandler, who rejoined the Rebels after not playing in 2011 and is the Ole Miss active career wins leader with three victories; senior Laina Collier, who moved to pitcher after playing infield last year; and a pair of freshmen in Hayley Davis and Lauren Lindsey.
Thees, a former catcher at Florida State, will work with the staff personally and will call all of the pitches.
“I love calling pitches during the game. Baseball coaches get to wear a uniform and be part of the game. We don’t have to wear a uniform, thank goodness, but being able to call pitches really gets me into the game. I like to scout teams early on if I am able to get a hold of their film. I like to read scouting reports and charts and figure out how our pitchers’ best pitches match up with their hitters’ styles. After that, it is all mathematical. We have to figure out how to put the ball in the right quadrant and make them miss. We are going to pitch by committee. We are going to get through one game at a time and keep people off the bases.”
Bruning, the Rebels’ most experienced pitcher with 125.1 innings pitched last year, looks to rebound after a disappointing 2011 campaign that saw her post just two victories in the circle. However, Thees likes what she has seen out of the junior college transfer and expects a strong season this year.
“Kendall is a senior and I am really excited about her. She is going to have a really good senior year for us. Last year was not the year she had hoped for as a junior college transfer who earned many accolades as a pitcher and hitter. Now she wants to bring herself back to that level. She wants to show Ole Miss and the SEC what she is really made of. She has come really far this fall and has taken on a leadership role on the team.”
The Rebels’ only other returning pitcher, Jayjohn, logged just 3.1 innings last year and will split time between the batter’s box and the circle.
“Erinn is a mover and can locate the ball. She brings us a little bit of off-speed in the circle. Offensively, she is also going to be one of our designated hitters.”
The Rebels will be counting heavily on newcomers in the circle, but Thees sees promise in each of the four pitchers.
“Freshman Lauren Lindsey is very tall and has unbelievable potential. She won the No. 2 spot in the fall, and we are really excited about her. She is going to come in and get innings, and we look for her to improve every game. Laina Collier and Hayley Davis are coming along and developing. They will see innings when we need them to see innings. Kelly Chandler joined our team this spring. She took last year off, but decided to come back for her senior year. She is a bit of an unknown factor for us, but I can tell that she is competitive and excited about playing her final year.”
Despite the departure of senior Brittany Barnhill, who finished second on the team with 20 RBI, the Rebels return seven of their top eight RBI producers from last season and the top four batting averages.
That group is led by seniors Cali Overbeck, who ranks sixth in school history with 12 home runs and eighth with 57 RBI, and Corrine Doornberg, who battled injury last season but ranks second on the Rebel chart with a .317 career batting average.
“I love these seniors. When I came in, they told me that they had had enough of the way it had been. They really want to make this year special. I am really pleased with all these ladies that have been on board with a completely new mindset. Our fielding, lifting and hitting philosophies are completely different. We were worried how the seniors would respond, having done things one way for so long. They have responded amazingly and have gotten after it.
“Corrine has really gotten after it at second base. She had an amazing fall offensively. We are excited to see her out on the field for her senior year. Cali obliviously brings power at the plate, and we have been moving her between third and short to figure out what gives us the best balance of hitting and defense.”
The Rebels also return a trio of sophomore infielders in Natalie Nimmo, Marina Parra and Londen Ladner, who paced the team with five homers and 21 RBI year ago. They have added talented freshman Allison Brown, who earned league MVP in California as a senior in high school.
“Londen has been playing at first base this year. She played third and first last year, but we like her better at first base because she has great hands. Allison Brown can play third base or shortstop. It is going to be hard to keep her off the field. We have this round-robin of Parra, Nimmo and Brown at third base and shortstop right now. We are playing a lot of girls in a lot of positions. We do not want any injuries to happen, but if they do we will be prepared this year.”
Ole Miss returns three starters in the outfield in senior Amanda Hutcheson, junior Brittany Broome and sophomore RT Cantillo, who led the team with a .315 batting average and 10 doubles last year en route to SEC All-Freshman honors. The Rebels also added talented freshman Dallas Hardin, who can play all three outfield positions.
“We have Brittany in left, RT in center field and Amanda and Dallas in right field. RT competes hard every single practice. Broome led our team in steals last year and has a lot of speed. She is a slap-hitter and can get on base. Between her and Hutcheson, we have solid left-handed hitters, and RT is a good right-hander and a leader out on the field. We are also excited about Dallas, because she gets after it. She can play center, left or right, and it is going to be hard to keep her off the field. She doesn’t know how good she is going to be as a freshman. “
Thees says the Rebels could continue to switch positions, trying to find the right mix.
“We have been mixing all these girls and trying to figure out the best moves offensively and defensively. We need to find out who can bring things to the table offensively and protect us defensively without allowing any runs or hits. We do not want people to get on base for free. I like defense. It is all a matter of who steps up. I like competition within a team, and these girls are really competing.”
After playing 21 games against ranked opponents last season, fans can expect a similar road for the Rebels in 2012. Seven of Ole Miss’ opponents this season are ranked in one of the preseason top-25 polls, including five squads that are among the top 10. Also, Ole Miss will face 12 teams that earned NCAA Tournament bids last year and two squads that advanced to the Women’s College World Series.
Ole Miss opens the season on Feb. 10 at the Seminole Classic, hosted by Florida, and will face off against Stephen F. Austin, Tennessee Tech and host Florida State during the four-team tournament.
After traveling to Hattiesburg for a tournament hosted by Southern Miss Feb. 17-19 and to a tournament hosted by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Feb. 24-26, the Rebels will return to Oxford for the home-opening Red & Blue Classic March 2-4 at the Ole Miss Softball Complex. Ole Miss will then open SEC play on the road at South Carolina March 7 before traveling to California for the Stanford Classic March 9-11.
“The schedule is going to be challenging and we are going to traveling a lot. In softball that is not unusual. We start out at my old stomping grounds in Tallahassee. I am excited to go down there and I think it is going to be a great time for our team to see what we are made of. We will face very different types of teams. There are power teams, speed teams and pitching and defensive teams at the tournament. I am excited to see how our kids respond. We also host our tournament and go to Southern Mississippi’s tournament and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s tournament, which will give a lot of different looks at teams before SEC play. Then we head out to Stanford for a tournament and we are definitely going to see how we match up with best.”
During the SEC slate, the Rebels will welcome Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State and South Carolina to Oxford while traveling to face Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, LSU and Tennessee. With six teams ranked in the preseason top-25 polls, including four in the top 10, the SEC is once again one of the top conferences in the country, but Thees welcomes the challenge.
“The SEC is the ultimate challenge when it comes to softball. The best teams in the country are always going to be in the SEC and I am looking forward to playing the best in the country day-in and day-out. That is why we play softball.”