Arizona State softball standout Annie Lockwood was barely out of college when she was hired as Skyline’s coach (and special education teacher) last summer. After three coaches in three previous years and 12 wins the previous two seasons combined, the Coyotes are off to their best start in school history at 12-2, including an emotional win of the Marcos de Niza-McClintock tournament last weekend. She took a few minutes this week to talk about the “who” and “why” to the Coyotes’ fast start this season.
Q: Aside from the early success, what’s been the biggest challenges so far of being a first-year varsity-level coach?
A: Getting the kids to buy in. In years past they haven’t had a lot of high expectations so getting them to buy into the philosophy we are contenders in every game and there are high expectations every day with me, practices and games. Getting them to believe they are good, and you can see it in their faces and how they play, they’re not always sure they belong. That needs to continue to work on.
Q: The program hasn’t had a winning season since 2010, what needs to change now and moving forward?
A: The mentality of the program. I’m the fourth coach in four years and had only won five games, and getting the school to get behind us was going to be difficult. We’re trying to make a statement and getting others around the program to help it grow and the kids see it on their side. The kids have said their peers and teachers have told them and asked them if they’re moving up in rankings and things like that, instead of whether they’re going to the playoffs or how they’re doing at all. It’s pushing them to be better and the coaches to keep it up and get the school behind these girls.
Q: What did you like about your team’s play in the Marcos de Niza-McClintock tournament last weekend?
A: They’re learning. They’re trying to learn what I’m teaching them and you can see it when they play. They’re becoming more knowledgeable. They make a mistake and I get really frustrated, but I need to be reminded this isn’t college or the level I played at, and my retort is “I need them to expect that.” I’m not going to coach them any different than how I was at college and in high school it’s half the battle to know the rules and basic situations. That’s huge because they’re starting to understand the game of softball rather than playing it.
Q: Given how you were coached at Arizona State under former coach Clint Myers, is it the same style you’re using on the girls?
A: There are things I’m not going to dive into with them and have to hold back a little. We’re not taking the grounders for three hours at a time like college. I truly understand the limits but I also truly understand what it takes to be successful. If I was just sitting and watching it’d be tough. I try and break things down into more simpler terms for sure.
Q: Who are a few girls who’ve shined for your team so far?
A: We have a great group of freshman coming up with Alisa Couch, and Maddie Mercer, who’s taken on center field as a freshman with a senior in left field (Bianca Gonzalez) and junior in right field (Natalie Rizen). The outfield has blown me away a bit with how they’ve accepted their roles. Kristen Braley started the season in the outfield and I moved her to first base because we didn’t have one and she’s been phenomenal, and I know first-hand it’s not easy at all to go from the outfield to the infield. Jaycee Lindley I’ve coached in club and seen her grow for the past year has been pretty cool. The freshmen and Kristen have surprised me. Lynzee Bolinger, our catcher, was on JV and didn’t have much opportunity (on varsity) last year, but she’s been perhaps our best hitter. They’ve all been great.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.