The softball team has found new leadership this season in new Head Coach Brittany Robinson.
Robinson, a former University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill second and third baseman, replaced Tony Ciccarello, who stepped up as Head Coach last spring in response to last season’s departure of then Head Coach Denise Marchese. Ciccarello left the Lady Hawks’ program weeks before the start of the 2014 season for the head coaching position at SUNY Fredonia.
Although the Lady Hawks were initially dismayed with the news of Ciccarello’s exit from the Lady Hawks program, they believe Robinson will be a good fit for the position.
“You can’t dwell on the things you can’t control and must channel that energy toward becoming a better team and dominating the competition,” fourth-year Captain Chelsea Kull said. “We’re optimistic about how she will prepare us for the upcoming season.”
SUNY New Paltz Athletic Director Stuart Robinson is optimistic, too.
“We decided to make phone calls around the softball community nationally to see what people knew in terms of who might be available and interested in the position,” Stuart Robinson said. “That brought Brittany to the surface. We did our due diligence in terms of talking to references and people who knew the candidates and at the end of the day, Brittany, from everything we were told, is the best fit for what we were looking for.”
Robinson began playing softball at the age of five. Competing on some of North Carolina’s most competitive travel teams by the age of 12, she helped her teams capture titles at national collegiate showcases and ultimately a national championship. Robinson, and four other members of that championship team, then took their talents to UNC.
A three-year starter for the Lady Tar Heels, Robinson reflected warmly upon her time at Chapel Hill.
“It was awesome – we got to travel around a lot, and we ended up being really successful,” Robinson said. “We ended up making regionals three out of the four years I was there, and we went to Washington and played the regional final there against Washington. It was a really big deal because it was right after they had won their national championship, so it was a big game that gave UNC a lot of publicity and kind of put us on the map.”
After graduating from UNC in 2011, Robinson immediately took a coaching job at a high school in North Carolina.
“I can’t imagine doing anything other than softball because I’ve done it since I was five,” Robinson said. “It’s hard to imagine life without it.”
Her dedication to the sport showed last summer, when she traveled to Switzerland to play in Switzerland’s softball league. Robinson, one of the American players asked to come over in order to build Switzerland’s program, got to play in the European Cup, where she helped one of the teams she played for clinch second place.
Robinson said it was a former Lady Tar Heels teammate who told her about the open position for the Lady Hawks.
“One of the girls I graduated with from Carolina coaches at UNC Greensboro and she contacted me after hearing about the job,” Robinson said. “She asked if I was still interested in coaching and I said of course. She said ‘I’ll make the call and then you should be expecting a phone call.’”
And Robinson said she is very happy she received that call.
“I’m excited to start the season and I think the girls are, too,” she said.
Robinson said she feels what set her apart from other head coaching candidates is her desire to connect with the players and her understanding of what they have been through the past four years in terms of lacking a consistent coaching staff. She also said the team’s yearning to improve parallels her own longing for progress.
“Listening to the administration talk about these softball girls, it showed me they really wanted more,” Robinson said. “And I think the way I presented myself is that I understand that feeling and I think I can give them what they need to take them to the next level.”
Robinson said the team’s strengths lie in their enthusiasm and their work ethic, along with their camaraderie both on and off the field. The connection the Lady Hawks have, Robinson said, is greater than any team she has seen and is a great foundation in building a successful program.
Robinson said the North Carolina style of play she is familiar with, where power rather than speed is king, will transition well into her coaching the Lady Hawks. She believes the team has multiple big hitters that “are smart, but can hit for power.”
Robinson hopes not to simply show players “this is how you hit a ball,” but “to teach them why this is why you hit this ball the way you do.” During practices, Robinson said she enjoys watching each player individually and picking out one element of the game per practice for them to work on.
“Yesterday I told one of the girls to stay down on the ball and that was the only thing I told her throughout practice,” Robinson said. “By the end of the practice she had improved on that. You don’t want to fill their brains with too much stuff at one time, but if they can focus on one thing a day, then you can check off one thing they can improve on, and I think that’s the way to go.”
And players are already responding well to her coaching style. Third-year outfielder Noelle Grande said Robinson’s youth, approachability, personality and previous playing experiences are all elements that make Robinson the right head coach to lead the Lady Hawks into a successful season.
“So far, she has gotten to know us, had individual meetings with each of us, assessed us during practice and is working hard to make us better individual players as well as a better team,” Grande said. “With just two weeks before games, the team and I feel confident going into games with her as our coach.”