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ISSUE 118 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/4/2005

New coach, new outlook

By Marjorie Thirlby
Sports Editor

Friday, March 4, 2005

It’s spring and the Ole women’s fastpitch team is swinging with new style. The ladies have a new coaching staff and a new outlook on their season.

Last fall, it was revealed that former head coach Lori Cooling would be replaced by then-assistant coach Ruthie Neuger for the 2005 season.

Cooling started coaching the Oles in 1995, and continued her role as the head coach for nine more seasons. She impressively led her team to two MIAC Championships in 1995 and 1996, and went to the NCAA Division III Regionals in 1996. However, the Oles’ success under Cooling declined during her later years. St. Olaf endured six consecutive losing seasons during her last years as coach.

Fortunately for the Oles, Neuger appears more than qualified for her new job as the head fastpitch coach.

Neuger graduated from St. Olaf in 1980, majoring in physical education and coaching. She had a highly successful fastpitch career, and later became a member of the St. Olaf Athletic Hall of Fame. Neuger then became an assistant coach for her alma mater in 2001.

Besides being an exceptionally talented player with a St. Olaf education, Neuger is thought of quite highly by her peers.

“Ruthie is a very genuine person and is a very hard worker,” athletic director and head baseball coach Matt McDonald ‘89 says of his colleague. “Ruthie is someone who has a great thirst for knowledge – she always asks questions and wants to learn new things, which is exactly what you look for in a good coach.”

Former athletic director and current volleyball coach Cindy Book echoed McDonald’s sentimetns.

“I’m very excited for Ruthie,” Book said. “I think the change in attitude will be really beneficial for the future of the program.”

The fastpitch program is also privileged to have two more alums on their coaching staff. Assistant coaches Jill James and Alex Busly should have a strong presence on the team as well.

In short, the lady Oles are thrilled to start the 2005 season.

“There’s a new atmosphere on our team,” Bekki Hagen ‘06 said. “We have much more confidence in ourselves this year. It’s great to have coaches that push us hard and believe in us.”

Coach Neuger is putting her girls through intense workouts and bringing new elements to her practices.

“I am trying to vary our drills and work hard on defense,” Neuger said.

Hagen also expressed the importance of improving the team’s defense.

“We need to make fewer errors, stay strong defensively, and work on being more agressive,” said the pitcher.

The Oles will compete this season with 18 players, including two seniors and five first-years. Neuger says she is delighted to work with a great group of young women.

“They are all willing to work hard and get after it in practice,” Neuger said. “They have a great attitude and are strong, wise women.”

Neuger and her team have high hopes for the season.

“I want us to win at least 10 games this season,” the first year coach said. “I would love for us to make it to the MIAC tournament.”

Hagen also mentioned the team’s high hopes for the upcoming season, but remained realistic about the squad’s chances.

“Ultimately, we want to move up in our conference and win the championship,” Hagen said. “Our team may not go as far as we want to, but I think we have the talent and coaching staff to get there in the next few years.”

The Oles will face a number of high quality opponents this season. St. Thomas, undefeated in MIAC play last season, also won the NCAA Division III National Championship. St. Benedict’s, last year’s MIAC runners-up, also went 29-7 overall a year ago.

“The MIAC is a very tough conference for softball,” Book said. “But I think there’s no reason we can’t become competitive within the next three to five years.”

Everyone seems to have a positive outlook on the season and the future of Ole fastpitch.

“I think there’s no doubt that the team can improve dramatically in a very short period of time,” McDonald said. “Things can change very quickly in college athletics, so I see no reason this team can’t contend within a couple of years.”

The women will officially begin their season March 20 when they will play at Chatman Universit in Orange, Calif. against Eastern Oregon. The Oles will compete against six other teams during their spring break trip.

Their first home game is against Martin Luther College on March 30, and their first home conference game will be against Gustavus on April 6.

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