From working up the ladder at the University of Oklahoma and then on to the University of Texas—two great softball programs—YSPN360 coach Tripp MacKay faced his biggest challenge yet in June of 2018, when he announced that he would be trading in his hat as UT’s assistant softball coach to become the head coach at Kennesaw State University. It was MacKay’s first shot to lead a program. One year later, YSPN360 caught up with Coach MacKay to talk about his experiences during his first season as head coach and the unique challenges that came with his decision.
“Moving from an assistant coach with certain responsibilities to a head coach will all the responsibilities I think is a challenge in itself,” said MacKay about his first year as head coach. “It’s a process and we knew it would take a little time to get everything on point. Our student-athletes were great this year and really eager to learn. Some good building blocks were set this year.”
The Lady Owls struggled early on in the 2019 season, opening with a 1-4 record at Bailey Park for the Phyllis Rafter Memorial. A detrimental loss kicked off the opening weekend tournament, followed by KSU quickly bouncing back against Morehead State. But the 6-5 win wasn’t enough to build any momentum, as they went on to suffer three more losses.
And the story of the Lady Owls season began to write itself…
“We struggled with consistency this year,” MacKay reflected. “We just didn’t quite get it all together at the right time. We were a club this year that couldn’t rely on just one part of the game. We needed pitching, hitting and defense to be good. If one of those areas struggled, then the whole club struggled.”
However, they wouldn’t let it define them.
“The one big thing that changed was their confidence,” said MacKay. “They came together as a team and really started to play for each other. We didn’t really worry about the numbers and just let that take care of itself. We focused on playing the game and having fun together as a team.”
In February, the Kennesaw players found a new bounce in their step with the team’s first winning streak of the season. The newfound confidence—and some new tactics from the first-year head coach—sparked the team into action, and with further assurance in their skills, the Lady Owls took on a new challenge to save their season record.
“Doubt is a killer in the game,” MacKay explained. “When athletes doubt their abilities, they lose sight of how good they can be. With me being a new coach for the program, there was some change in coaching style and information. We didn’t change our approach when things weren’t as good as we knew they could be. We knew we were giving the players good information, and it just took a little time to get it all to come together.”
And the challenge was met with positive results.
KSU went on to finish with a 26-29 record, which included a season-high 10 game winning streak. They were 10-11 in conference play and protected the home turf, going 16-13 at Bailey Park. And while success is often defined by the number of wins, MacKay felt the lessons learned from the adversity during the 2019 season were simply the building blocks for next year.
“I think they learned they can’t just show up and think they will win a ball game,” said MacKay. “They have to put the work in. It is tough to believe you are a good player when you are struggling with the game. The sport is so result-oriented you can get lost in the numbers and forget the task at hand is to play the game. Confidence started to show up, and they really started to grow as players and a team. It was really fun to see it come together for them.”
With that mindset, MacKay looks forward to next season and what the Lady Owls will come back to do in the Second Act.
“[I look forward to seeing] how good we can be,” stated MacKay. “We really started feeling we could be a good ball club.”
A special thanks to Coach MacKay for doing this interview! Be sure to check out his instructional videos in our Softball section.
Contributor: Whitney Worthen, YSPN360 Staff Writer