(Photo: Alli Cline/WCSN)
With familiar face Craig Nicholson no longer at the helm of Arizona State softball, the 2016 team goes into the season with two new co-interim head coaches Robert Wagner and Letty Olivarez.
Wagner joined the ASU coaching staff for the second time in his career. He previously served as an associate head coach and recruiting coordinator from 2006-2011 and was instrumental in both of ASU’s national championship runs in 2008 and 2011.
After spending the past few seasons at Scottsdale Community College and amassing a 75-54 record, coming back to Tempe already was on his radar.
“I was hoping I would come back here,” Wagner said. “When Craig called at the time I just figured it probably wouldn’t open again if I didn’t take it then.”
Known primarily as an offensive-minded coach, Wagner has instituted potent offenses in all his career stops.
Last season with the Sun Devils, Wagner served as the hitting coach and helped bolster the Sun Devil offense. Under his guidance, multiple Sun Devil hitters achieved career highs across several offensive categories. As a team, the Sun Devils finished with a combined .314 batting average and hit the eighth most home runs in a season ever with 81.
In addition to his extensive coaching career, Wagner also served four years in the United States Marine Corps. He believes that not just his time in the armed forces, but all prior work, can lend itself to his coaching style.
“Hard work and discipline, being able to focus when the bullets are flying all around you, I think you bring all those lessons,” he said. “Every experience that you’re involved with, you bring with you. Some good, some not so good.”
To balance out the coaching staff, ASU athletic director Ray Anderson brought in Letty Olivarez to be the pitching coach along with her co-interim head coaching duties.
Olivarez had a very impressive playing career at the University of Wisconsin before becoming an assistant after her graduation.
As a coach, she has helped improve pitching staffs as a whole as well as coaching players to individual success. While at California State University Northridge, Olivarez led freshman pitcher Zoe Conley to one of the best individual seasons in program history, recording a 19-7 record and a 1.84 ERA, and the staff as a whole had a combined 2.42 ERA, good for No. 24 in the country.
The 2016 pitching staff with feature two former Gatorade players of the years in their respective states, Dale Ryndak and Breanna Macha. In addition to those two, Kelsey Kessler, a transfer from the University of Kansas, will look to shoulder some of the load and also make an impact.
The staff has a lot of talent which Olivarez is already enjoying working with.
“They’ve [Macha, Ryndak and Kessler] been so open with change and that’s the biggest thing,” Olivarez said. “I see so much potential, but at the same time they’ve grown so much in just the little bit of time time that I’ve had them.”
Growth will be key for the Sun Devil staff which started strong but faltered towards the end of the year.
“Letty knows what she’s doing.” Kessler said. “She’s a huge help from last year. She’s really put in the mental side of the game that I think kind of got lost last year.”
Together the two coaches will look to balance the workload of the day-to-day grind throughout the season. Olivarez said that the two of them have found their rhythm as coaches.
“It has actually worked out pretty nicely,” Olivarez said. “Obviously he’s more in control of hitting and I’m more in control of pitching so we kind of having separate duties. When we all hit the field we take over everything.”
The two will try to lead the Sun Devils back to the NCAA tournament and deep into the Women’s College World Series. That process begins on Feb. 11 as the Sun Devils take on Utah State University to begin the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe.