Dec. 22, 2011
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By Andrew Jennette
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - As the UCF softball players take some time off for winter break, the coaching staff is hard at work making final preparations for spring camp which begins in early January. UCFAthletics.com caught up with head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie in part two of a three-part series as she provided some insight on how she felt the team performed last season, her expectations of this year's squad and an update on some of the key positional battles she expects when camp opens.
The first tournament of the season is in Clermont, Fla. which is a very short trip from campus. Is this the first time you’ve played in that tournament?
"It is actually the second time we’ve played in this tournament. The first time we played in it was the very first year it was put on and they had some top 25 caliber programs like UCLA, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee playing in it. Teams are always looking for new tournaments, but we still have Ohio State and North Carolina playing this year which are both talented softball programs."
You have 20 players this year; you only had 16 last year. Will having those extra players alleviate some of last year’s problems with depth and protect against injuries?
"That was part of our thought process in bringing in such a large number of kids for this year’s class. We were so down in numbers last year, at the end of the season we were dressing only 11 healthy players. We literally didn’t have a single sub to even put it. So we decided to get our numbers up and we believe we have the depth this year where we legitimately go two deep at every position on the field rather than maybe one person or one and a half people at each position."
You’re bringing on 13 new players which are the most in team history. How do you find out with so many new players which players are best for which position?
"In the first few weeks of the offseason we put all of our players through a training program. We analyze them. We take them through throwing, fielding and hitting drills and we do a break down on their athlete ability. We find out where they are strong and where they are weak and go from there. Are they having trouble on the first three steps out of the box? Are they quick down the line? Are they trying to pull everything when they are hitting and do we need to work on getting them to go opposite field? How are our slappers doing? Are they getting the ball on the ground and getting on base so our bigger hitters have a chance to hit with runners on base? We analyze every little piece of it. Once we have all that information, then we put the players into the positions we feel like they would best fit. So when we play our scrimmage games in the fall, we have our players play at the three positions we think fit their skill set the best and we allow the players to battle it out in the fall season to see who steps up and seizes the job. We would set it up so they would rotate every two innings to a new position and each player would get an equal amount of reps at the spots they were going for."
Off the field, how do you manage 13 new personalities at one time?
"We rely a lot on our seniors. We’ve got six seniors and they work a lot with the younger players. They will walk them around campus and help them get to their classes and really act as mentors to the younger players. We do a lot of team building activities with fundraisers and things of that nature. Players will naturally lean towards the personalities that are the most like them and who they are around the most if it’s their roommates or whoever. You really don’t really get a chance to see it until the spring season starts when everyone starts living and dying for each other on the field."
Do you find that a close knit team that enjoys being around each other will translate into better chemistry on the field?
"I think it’s the most important thing for any team is that players will play for each other and not just for themselves. I’ve been a coach for 19 years and I’ve had players who were a little disconnected from the rest of the team. It takes a very fine tuning of players personalities. Every player is motivated differently. We actually did something neat this offseason. Our director of student services, Marcus Sedberry, set up a personality test online for us and our entire program; players, coaches, trainers, managers took the test. We all sat in the room together and we were really able to discover the players’ personalities much better. We were really able to get a better understanding of which player needs that hug and positive reinforcement. Another player might just need the facts and need to be told what they did wrong in a straight forward manner."