×

A new coach, a new attitude for Dartmouth softball

  • The Dartmouth softball team gathers after an outdoor practice on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth softball coach Jennifer Williams catches a ball to hit to players during practice on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth softball pitcher Shelby Wilkison during practice Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, February 22, 2019

HANOVER — Morgan Martinelli stood alongside a concrete support beam in Leverone Field House on Wednesday evening. An open utility box on the adjacent inside wall held switches that the senior manipulated while gazing upward at the sectional netting rising slowly toward the curved roof.

Martinelli, a softball third baseman, said batted balls hit the field house’s hanging lights fairly often, but the real trouble comes when one strikes a sprinkler head in the sectional ceiling.

“Water just pours down for about 20 minutes,” Martinelli said, raising her eyebrows slightly. “So much that whichever team has the next practice usually can’t use that side of the field.”

The Big Green is hoping to avoid substantial disruption this season, the first under new coach Jen Williams, the program’s third boss in the last six years. Hired after eight seasons at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she’s atop the career victories list, the Maine native last season guided the Engineers (38-11-1) to the Division III College World Series for the second time in three years.

“The whole vibe of the team has changed,” said Dartmouth junior shortstop Calista Almer, whose squad won last year’s regular season Ivy League title before losing the Ancient Eight’s postseason series to Harvard. “We all expected a big transition, but Jen’s created a welcoming atmosphere and made it so much easier than it could have been.”

Williams’ predecessor, Shannon Doepking, left to take over at Syracuse after going 57-24 in league play and producing two NCAA tournament appearances during four years at Dartmouth. Doepking has a no-nonsense demeanor and is a onetime college star and pro player who drove the Big Green partly through force of personality.

Rachel Hanson, who preceded Doepking at Dartmouth, also used intensity to prod her final team to the program’s first Ivy title.

Now comes Williams, who appears inclined to give her players more freedom and mental space.

“Shannon was very structured,” said Almer, whose team opened its season on Friday against Appalachian State and Charleston Southern in Charleston, S.C., and has three more games there this weekend. Williams “gives us a script, and we work through problems and figure out how to build a team structure on our own.”

Dartmouth has only two seniors, but both, Martinelli and outfielder Taylor Ward, were 2018 first-team All-Ivy honorees, along with league rookie of the year Schae Nelson, a catcher and utility player who led the Big Green with a .294 batting average, .386 in league play. Junior second baseman Micah Schroder and sophomore pitcher Heather Turner were second-team picks for a team that went 22-18 overall and 16-5 in the Ivies.

Dartmouth has enjoyed a run of outstanding pitchers. Can Turner be the next? She struggled in both games of last season’s Ivy League Championship Series, and is joined in the circle by classmate Shelby Wilkison, who was 5-6 with a 3.60 ERA last spring. Freshmen Maddie Augusto and Brooke Plonka are other pitching options.

Teaching pitching is second nature for Williams, who grew up a hurler in Scarborough, Maine, a suburb south of Portland. A three-sport athlete, she gravitated to club softball during the summers and played for Scarborough High and club coach Tom Griffin, perhaps the state’s top coach in the sport.

A biology major on a pre-med track at Middlebury College, Williams left the Panthers in 2007 as their career leader in victories (32), complete games (41) and innings pitched (327). She had enjoyed helping Griffin with coaching during her college summers, however, and began to reconsider wanting to become a physician.

“I realized I probably wouldn’t be able to coach again for 10 years if I was lucky, and I couldn’t bear the thought of that,” Williams said. “I realized I could help people in a developmental method rather then in a physical sense.

“Coaching is such a tremendous opportunity. It has stakes and that’s why development is so important in varsity sports.”

How quickly Dartmouth develops won’t necessarily be visible by looking at its nonleague record, Williams said. The Big Green has traditionally played a challenging slate before returning to Ivy play, and the coach doesn’t want her players overly worrying about wins and losses.

“I’m a very process-focused coach,” said Williams, echoing the mind set of many Dartmouth coaches hired by athletic director Harry Sheehy during the past nine years. “Dartmouth students are able to grasp changes and make adjustments fast, and it’s a clean slate for our players. At the same time, it’s my job to put the 10 best players out there every day.”

Rain or shine. Indoors or out.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.