This week could prove to be a very important one for the Ole Miss softball program. Having just hosted the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the first time in program’s history, and in the midst of a coaching search, the Ole Miss administration has a chance to change the Lady Rebels’ trajectory moving forward.
On Monday, Ole Miss Senior Executive Associate Athletics Director John Hartwell discussed where he envisioned the program heading with it’s coaching vacancy possibly less than a week away from being filled.
“We know it’s not going to be a magic wand and overnight thing, but we don’t want a one-hit wonder,” he said. “We want someone to come in and build it into a team that is routinely in the SEC Tournament and NCAA tournament. We want to be successful within our league.”
On Tuesday, former four-time Stanford All-American, Olympian and current ESPN analyst Jessica Mendoza took the time to discuss her views on not only Ole Miss, but the state of prep and collegiate softball.
Below is the interview in its entirety:
Q: How does Ole Miss’ facility stack up to some of the others around the country and the SEC?
A: I think the SEC in general sets the bar for other conferences now. As far as facilities they’re second to none pretty much anywhere in the SEC and Ole Miss is right up there… Ole Miss is definitely right up there and I think knowing the conference in general, recruits coming into Ole Miss know they can play in front of the amazing fans in Oxford and will also be traveling and playing in some of the best stadiums in the country in the SEC.
Q: How are things different now, compared to when you were being recruited?
A: I feel like things have changed because when I was a recruit everyone kind of had the same facilities and if anything the PAC 10 had some of the best and now it has definitely changed where the SEC has not only the best facilities but also the best support. You’re seeing athletics departments come through with the little things, the things that make these players feel just as important as the football players.
Q: Is there more interest in fast-pitch softball at the youth ranks now?
A: What you’re seeing is locally girls in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama and throughout the entire area are playing competitively and now some of the best recruits are coming out of that part of the country. Honestly, 10 years ago you weren’t going to see competitive softball (in those areas) at the youth level. I think that’s a big part of it because you also have the local people having daughters that play so it’s easier to invest in something when you’re seeing your grand daughter or daughter participate in the sport and you want them to have the role models.
Q: Is it realistic for Ole Miss to expect to move up the SEC ranks?
A: It is so realistic and to be honest I’m surprised it hasn’t been a No. 1 goal because Ole Miss, Mississippi State and a few others have been those schools where they have the potential because of the conference they play in. I felt like in the past they could be better because they have the school and athletics department behind them to back them. Ole Miss has that (athletics) tradition, that support and you see it across the board. I love watching their baseball program, it’s such a fun environment to play college sports in. It has always surprised me that their softball program hasn’t had that same support and I feel like that’s now what is happening. Because of that it will be a national contender if they get the right coach in there, but obviously it’s not about a magic wand. It’s about a coach who is going to come in there and get the same support from the university that the other sports have gotten.
Q: Seems like a built-in disadvantage for teams like Ole Miss because there’s not the plethora of in-state talent like in Texas or California:
A: It’s like the chicken or the egg. When travel teams and high school teams can see that level of play and aspire to be even better. There’s no doubt there’s the athletes in the state of Mississippi. We know they exist, it’s a matter of getting them into softball and then obviously getting them to stay at home. You need a good core of state-local players to build your program and then you’re going to get a couple of big recruits. You might get a girl from California, from Texas, from Florida, the big power softball states, but you’re not going to get 15 girls from California and so it’s a matter of getting the five or six players that are local who are ballers. They’re going to get out there and get dirty and make something happen. That’s what you’re seeing a school like Georgia do. They get some local girls and then they get some big recruits on top of that and they have now built a program that’s huge. (June 22, 2011, Page 6)