Prince, Ray, Smith Video | Cat Scratches: Change Comes for UK Softball, Goal Stays the Same: WCWS

Softball Head Coach, Rachel Lawson


Opening statement …

“I’m real excited about 2017. We have a new look to us in
2017, but I have the same staff. My staff is here, Kristine Himes and Molly
Johnson-Belcher, so they’re here with me. Kristine has been with me the entire
time. Molly has been here the entire time as a player and as a coach. She’s
been around forever. She was around here before me. So the staff is completely
intact and we are really looking forward to the season. This is going to be a
completely different season than everyone is accustom to the last couple of
years. We have a completely new look in 2017. First, we are going to have a lot
of people playing new positions. A lot of the people returning are playing a
positon that they did not play at last year. But, in addition to 2017’s new
look positionally, we have a lot more team speed – it’s been something we have
been working very hard on. We have Bailey Vick, Katie Reed, Erin Rethlake and
Brynlee Bigelow – they are incredibly, incredibly fast. We’ve always had fast
people on our team – but we have never had this many fast people on the same
team at the same time, so we are looking forward to our team speed. In
addition, (Brooklin) Hinz and (Sarah) Rainwater, they are just a step off of
those guys. They have don an exceptional job in the outfield and right now,
they are projecting to be starters as well.


One of the things that we have done in practices recently
is work on the offensive part of the game. Not just hitting, but just becoming
a complete offense and you can see in addition to that team speed (Madison)
Kearschner and (Kelsee) Henson and (Hannah) Huffman are really working hard at
that part of our game to give us additional options.


I scout the other teams’ offense, and one of the things
that I like to do is I always focus hard on the teams last 15 or 20 games. For
us, if you look at our stats from the last 20 games – one of the things that
people don’t realize is that we are returning four out of our top five hitters
– so that’s something that’s been a well-kept secret for 2017. And of those, we
have Abbey Cheek, Jenny Schaper, Brooklin Hinz and Katie Reed – so of those, we
are returning our top three RBI producers if you look at our last 20 games,
which includes the postseason. I’m very excited about that. One of the things
that we didn’t have last year was we didn’t have a big left-handed hitting
presence – and that has been corrected for this season. They are right now
being led by Buzz Ray who has had a lot of production both in the offseason and
in the preseason, but in addition, one thing she has done really well is she
has stepped up as a leader. She is brilliant – she is our top student – but she
also has a very cool, calm demeanor to her and she has done a great job of
leading our left-handed hitters. Before, we would only have one left-handed
hitting group, but now she has her hands full because we have a couple of
different groups and a lot of them are very young. We are seeing a lot of power
out of Alex Martens. She has done a great job left-handed. (Erin) Rethlake has
done a great job producing in there and so has Henson, who is a sophomore on
our team.


We have also tried to really tried to up our short game,
and right now Bailey Vick is leading our short game. She is incredibly fast.
She is a freshman from Kentucky and she is one of the most coachable
individuals I’ve ever been around, so I’ve been really pleased with her. She is
getting better and better at the speed of light and I am very impressed with
her, so I am expecting big things out of her for this season to come.


The big question that I’ve been getting asked all year is
how do you replace Kelsey Nunley. And it is a very good question – but I think
one thing when you think of Kelsey Nunley, is that she was not only
exceptional, but she threw a ton of innings, and they were all very productive
innings. So, we have to figure out how are we going to get as many innings out
of our pitching staff as we can to try and help with replacing all of the
innings that we will need to replace Kelsey Nunley. I feel very good about the
staff that we have put together. It is going to have a different look, but we
are very versatile. It’s a lot of different people doing what Kelsey Nunley
could do by herself. She was a workhorse, she was very big and she was very
strong, but there are more than one ways to get things done. Luckily, we have
Meagan Prince coming back. She is going to be the anchor of this team. Meagan
is great because she was a 20-game winner last night, but she is a great
starter – and she is also a great closer and has a great closing mentality, so
you could see her in two different roles. Shannon Smith is somebody who is a
returner along with Erin Rethlake. Erin had surgery this offseason, but she’s
improving everyday and she has experience, so she is someone we really will
lean on during the course of the season for this staff. She looks great – she’s
full go. She is on a little bit of a pitch count, but in the innings that she
has pitched, she’s looked incredibly strong. We’ve added to the pitching staff.
We have three freshman who have come in. One freshman who has really been
impressive as of late on the mound is Larissa Spellman – she is from New Jersey
– and she is not very large in stature – but she throws the ball incredibly
hard and one thing that I have been really impressed with her is that she’s
really figuring out her own body. She is figuring out her mechanics and she is
increasing the command of her pitching everyday and her mindset. She has really
worked hard on that in the offseason – she has worked hard at how to deal with
failure, and because she has done such a good job with that, she has been able
to figure out her own mechanics at a much faster rate.


You couldn’t have the pitching staff we have without
great catchers – and we are returning both of our catchers in Jenny Schaper and
Rachael Metzger. Both of them have done a really good job with such a large
staff and with our infield. They’ve really commanded them. We are a lot further
along with our defensive strategies at this time in the season than we have
been in the past. Some of that is because I believe that our coaching staff has
done a better job of organizing how we are going about things, but a lot of it
is because they have done a really good job stepping up, leading the infield
and taking charge.


Other notable newcomers in the lineup are Ashley Ruiz and
Kaila Johnson. They are also pitchers. We’ve been impressed with them because
not only are they giving us innings, but they have been giving us good
appearances at the plate in live scrimmages so far. So, that gives us a lot of
depth on the pitching staff. The big question is if I’m going to be worth all this
money that Mitch is paying me, because I’m the pitching coach. I have to figure
out how I’m going to put all this together, but hopefully I’m up for the
challenge and I’m looking forward too. It’s not what you’re going to be used to
seeing, but I’m hoping we are equally as powerful and I think that we can win a
lot of softball games.


The goal, always, is to be standing in Oklahoma City. I
believe if we can do what we need to do throughout and we are intelligent,
mindful and we are plugging away- I believe that we are going to have the staff
that is going to be able to stand there at the end of the season.


The final newcomers that we need to talk about, we have
(Morgan) McCallum and (Kierston) Moore. They have done a great job – they
provide us with a lot of power. Moore, with her live at-bats, has just been
awesome. She has a plan for the pitchers and for a freshman – she doesn’t
flinch. When the pitcher has missed, or given her her pitch, she has
capitalized in a big way. So, I am very impressed with her. Our freshman class
has not only brought us speed, but they have brought us a lot of power, which
is something that we are going to need.


Our infield right now – if we were to start tomorrow,
Abbey Cheek and Jenny Schaper are the lone returners in the positions that they
played last year. You will see Rachael Metzger behind the plate, but Katie Reed
is shifting from second base to shortstop – you’ll be looking at Alex Martens
playing second base and you’ll be seeing Erin Rethlake possibly playing first
base when she is not on the mound. Although, Rethlake is a very good outfielder
– so you could see her potentially moving to the outfield.


I’ve been very impressed with the outfield lately. They
are right now being anchored by Buzz Ray, (Sarah) Rainwater, (Brooklin) Hinz
and Bailey Vick. She has done a really good job getting comfortable running the
outfield, so we should see her. With that said, that’s who I would start
tomorrow, and that’s just tomorrow and I can change my mind in a hurry, so
that’s something I’ve gotten very good at. Luckily in softball, we have
re-entry rules and substitution rules and most of the time I know how to use
them, so I’m not afraid to create some versatility on my team, but those look
like they will be the ones on Opening Day.”


On how she got up into Massachusetts to recruit
Shannon Smith …

“Well, this is a good story, actually. I played at the
University of Massachusetts and I’m a Patriots fan. Good job last night, go
Pats! I played at the University of Massachusetts, and I was up north – I was
working in a facility, and at the time, Shannon was young. She was like eight.
Shannon was a little crap. She was that little eight year old – I’m terrible
with eight-year-olds – if you come to a Kentucky Softball camp, I organize it
so that I am personally not around the eight-year-olds. I always made
eight-year-old’s cry. I don’t know what I do. But I say anything, and I make
them cry. So, I’m very mindful of that. Shannon was one kid if I said ‘Hey,
don’t sit on the bucket’ – Shannon was the one kid that would go in the corner,
sit on the bucket and kind of look at you and she was just that little crap –
sorry, I don’t know a better word for it. She just knew what she wanted to do
at that age, and you could tell she was very, very good at that age. Another
thing you could tell at that age was about a year later – she was already
pitching full go off of the mound in her little league – and she was the cutest
little kid. She didn’t like me very much, she had a different pitching coach,
but she was like ‘When I want to get a strikeout I just put my visor really low
and I put the ball right here and I throw the ball as fast as I can.’ And I never
forgot that because she has really grown into a great power pitcher. She
somebody that has a lot of fun and somebody that has a lot of life to her,
which I think a great pitcher needs. She has been exceptional – and then from
then, we just kept up with her and we’ve seen how she’s done and she’s ended up
at Kentucky with me.”


On Bailey Vick and what she brings for team speed …

“Bailey Vick is as fast as Sylver (Samuel). Sylver was a
great lead-off batter for us, and that’s one thing we are trying to figure out
right now. We have a few challenges and that’s one of them. Bailey Vick is that
fast. I’ll be honest with you, Erin Rethlake is also as fast as Sylver, and I
think Katie Reed is also very, very close to Sylver’s speed. With that said,
the reason speed is such a big deal for us is we’ve always had RBI hitters. In
fact, of the returners, they are the top 3 RBI hitters in the last 20 games,
but we’ve been taking an RBI hitter and putting them in the lead-off spot and
it’s looking like the season might start that way. But, ultimately, that’s not
what we want. We want people to be able to tableset and we want them not to
just tableset at the beginning of the order, but we want them to be able to
tableset in the middle of the order, but not at the end. When we went to the
World Series in 2014, it was the bottom of our lineup that turned things over
for the top of our lineup that gave us a chance to score runs. We’ve had a
really hard time getting going as far as our lead-off batters. So, last year we
broke a lot of records for a Kentucky softball team, but we were still kind of
missing that piece and that is something our staff has kind of been mindful of.
You not only have to recruit, but you have to develop. So, we’ve been spending
a lot of time developing them and we think it will pay off. With that said –
early on – I’m going to have to be OK with them running themselves out of a
couple of outs. I think we are going to be a little over-aggressive early so
that they can learn to test their limits rather than not be aggressive enough
and not get a key play when you need it to happen in SEC play or the


On winning being made from within the program …

“If you would have asked me that question five years ago,
I would have said it was an organic process. I would have said leaders are
leaders and what’s going to happen is what’s going to happen and I have since
changed my tune. We do a really good job at Kentucky – our strength and
conditioning is top notch – we really do a good job with our nutrition – I
think that’s a really great piece, but I think one of the other great things is
we’ve made a big commitment to leadership. We have an excellent man in charge
of that and his name is Jason Cummins. When I first met him, I was like I don’t
want to meet the leadership guy! Who wants to meet the leadership guy, right? I
will tell you that he has made me do a complete 180 on that. He has done an
exceptional job and one of the big things that we have done over the last
couple of years is cultivate leadership on this team. It’s become a really,
really big deal. In fact, I believe that’s one of the things that takes us to
the postseason. One of our other challenges this season, and I can’t believe
that I’m saying this – you’re going to make me pay for this, for sure – is this
team is so obedient. Respect is a big deal in this program. We have Kentucky
Softball standards and then we have rules that enhance those standards. One of
the first standards is you have to respect. You have to respect the staff – all
of the staff – just not the coaching staff. You have to respect your teammates,
you have to respect everyone that works at the university, you have to respect
the community, and that’s a big deal. The players on my team really buy into
that. But right now, this team is not only incredibly respectful, but this team
is incredibly coachable and they don’t like to step on each other’s’ toes. One
of the things that I’m trying to teach them is that it’s OK to want things.
There’s a way to be respectful and still demand things. It’s going to be
important for these leaders to step up and explain to them this is what I want,
and this is how we’re going to go about it. That’s something in practice that
I’ve been hammering down, too. I have to yell at this team to get them to be
overly aggressive. It’s different. I’ve never had that before. I think they’re
going to be OK with it if I can just get them to be a little more aggressive
and knowing what they want and going for it as a team.”


On her expectations for Brynlee Bigelow …

“Well, that’s a heck of a question, because of all of my
players, (Brynlee) Bigelow has the hardest road to go. I switched her from
being a right-handed to a left-handed hitter – and I not only switched her – I
switched her right after Christmas. That’s not easy. It’s something she can do.
She is incredibly fast. On the bases, she can create unbelievable offense. She
in one of our fall scrimmages against Western Kentucky, she actually jumped
over the catcher to tag home plate. You don’t teach that. That’s a God-given
talent. She has great vision on the bases, but she wasn’t getting the
production she needed right handed, so she switched over. The other thing
that’s happened, is because we have great catching, she’s switched over from
being a catcher to being an outfielder – well, then we also had a void in the
middle infield, so she’s had to learn second base to create a little bit of
depth at that position for us. So, right now I’m sure her head is spinning. I’m
sure she’s exploding, but I can tell these past couple of weeks that she has
really came to ownership and I can see her getting more confident and getting
better and putting the ball in play. I don’t know exactly what role she will
play right now – I know that she will get playing time right away, I just think
that’s going to have to be something she develops as she gets more


On not using the word rebuilding …

“Well, I’m the worst marketer in the world. I’ll be
honest. I’m terrible. So it’s definitely not a marketing tool (to use retooling
instead of rebuilding). I don’t like to talk about replacing players. I like to
talk about succeeding players – because the bottom line is this is Shannon
Smith’s senior year. It’s important to me that Shannon Smith has a big senior
year, so I have to make sure that I’m retooling every time that I have a senior
class. I have to make sure that I’m retooling. (crying). I’m really not that
soft. Everybody is important to me and everybody’s career is important to me.
If you just try to figure out how to rebuild, all you’re doing is you’re saying
all of the people on my team can’t get it done. Basically what I’m doing is
admitting that I’ve wasted their last four years. And, I’m not going to do
that. So ,when I coach, I not only think about winning now, I think about
winning in 10 days, I think about winning at the end of the season,  I
think about how I’m going to win next year, and I’m thinking about how I’m
going to be able to develop my current freshman class so that they can be
standing in Oklahoma City. So all of those things are going on in my mind the
entire time that I’m coaching – so it’s not a marketing tool at all, it’s how I
like to do things.”  

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