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Powered by Persistence: Hildebrandt Takes Over Oxbow Softball

  • From left, Oxbow players Dana Fisk, Melanie Neil, Leia White and Madie Wright, listen to head coach Carl Hildebrandt during softball practice at Oxbow High School in Oxbow, Vt., on March 29, 2018. In addition to coaching, Hildebrandt is also a science teacher at Oxbow.(Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Head coach Carl Hildebrandt yells out finishing times as players run laps around the parking lot during softball practice at Oxbow High School in Oxbow, Vt., on March 29, 2018. Before starting as head coach last week, Hildebrandt was the junior varsity coach for the past seven seasons.(Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Head coach Carl Hildebrandt comments on a bunting drill during softball practice at Oxbow High School in Oxbow, Vt., on March 29, 2018. Last season, under the leadership of former head coach Robin Wozny, the Olympians went undefeated, 18-0. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2018

Bradford, Vt. — Carl Hildebrandt wouldn’t have started coaching had it not been for the persistence of longtime Oxbow High softball coach Robin Wozny. Taking over the program she helped build when Wozny ultimately decided to step away was never a doubt in Hildebrandt’s mind.

He now hopes he and the Olympians can pick up right where Wozny left off.

Hildebrandt, an Oxbow science teacher who served as Wozny’s assistant and the program’s junior varsity coach for the past seven seasons, entered his first spring training with the O’s as head coach last week. It’s been different, he admitted, without Wozny running practices; she served as the team’s coach for 28 years before stepping down following June’s VPA Division III state championship victory to spend more time with her family.

But Hildebrandt already has the pieces in place. He’s inherited a program with a lengthy history of state-level success, a youth program flush with participation and a veteran starting pitcher in Madison Fornwalt coming off of back-to-back D-III finals appearances.

Hildebrandt’s job, as he sees it, is simple: Keep things on the autopilot and make sure everything else stays on course.

“We have the same drills, the same stuff,” Hildebrandt said during a Wednesday afternoon practice in Oxbow’s gymnasium. “It’s the same program Robin put together. I’m keeping most of the same stuff she did.

“I’ve got big shoes to fill,” he added with a smile. “I’m going to be saying that a lot this year.”

Wozny led the O’s to 26 postseason appearances in her 28 seasons, winning three state championships. Last year’s top seed, Oxbow defeated No. 2 Leland & Gray, 11-2, in the D-III title game, sending the longtime coach out on top with a senior-heavy squad that went 18-0 during last spring.

A year later, Hildebrandt’s group is not nearly as veteran-heavy. Oxbow graduated six starters and all of its starting infield from last spring, including stalwart Mary Bourgeois, the other half — with Fornwalt — of the Olympians’ two-headed pitching monster that made the squad tough to beat.

“(Wozny) left some great players; that was a hell of a team last year,” Hildebrandt said. “It was great to have a team like that. But we’ve got some young players who want to fill those shoes.”

The mound is now Fornwalt’s alone this spring, a spotlight for which she’s been preparing for some time.

“It’s a change. Me and my dad, we’re coming here after AAU practice, at 8 or 9 o’clock, coming here pitching,” Fornwalt said. “It’s a lot of responsibility. You can’t let anyone down. … I think I’m pretty ready for it. I’m just exciting to be back out there.”

Fornwalt said the energy during preseason practices already has been different than that of the last two springs with with Wozny. Hildebrandt, admittedly, was the iron fist to Wozny’s velvet glove during their time coaching together, making them a unique tandem when the situation arose.

“It’s been very different,” Fornwalt said. “When I started on this team, I started with the group of seniors that graduated last year. … They had a huge presence. They’re hard shoes to fill. It’s been really different without Woz. You could tell that she had it down.

“It’s things you never noticed, but you notice it now,” she added. “The tempo of practice, it’s hard to get back to the way we were last year.”

It helps, she said, that the new coach running the team is a familiar one.

Hildebrandt hadn’t coached softball until Wozny approached him before the 2011 season to take over the school’s junior varsity team.

“They needed a jayvee coach, and she talked me into it,” he said. “Now, here I am.”

Since then, Hildebrandt has seen the inner workings of one of Oxbow’s most consistently successful programs. But the biggest lesson he’s learned, he said, is to be patient.

“She was definitely methodical,” he said of Wozny. “She loved the bunt, which she got flack for a lot. But it’s definitely a game of patience, I think. … It’s hard to slow down sometimes. It’s hard to go 100 miles an hour all the time. You’ve got to get the girls to understand things. You’ve got to start small.”

Some things that Wozny did won’t change with Hildebrandt. He still plans to take the group on its annual spring trip — this time to Pennsylvania — in the next few weeks. Drills in practice look similar; his message to the team will echo sentiments from years past.

That’s because Hildebrandt expects Wozny to be watching from the stands.

“I’m not bringing anything drastically new,” he said. “Woz passed the torch, for sure. She’d kill me if I did anything (drastic). And look, what she did was good. I’m not recreating the wheel here.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.