Change doesn’t happen overnight — or over the course of one season — as the UT Arlington softball program found out last year.
When one of the most prolific assistants in college softball landed at UTA before last season, the common thought was that the Mavericks would be able to hit — and hit often.
After all, coach Kristie Fox knows a thing or two about hitting.
The former All-American helped Arizona win back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. Four years later, she turned Texas Tech into one of the most potent offenses in college softball and helped them shatter school records as an assistant coach.
But UTA didn’t light up the scoreboard as expected. They scored 2.5 runs per game and were outscored by 22 runs over the course of the season. They went 25-28 and saw their season end in the conference tournament.
Much of that could be chalked up to inexperience, seeing as four first-year players saw a significant number of at-bats. But Fox had a different explanation.
“We focused on mechanics across the board last year,” Fox said. “They never learned my hitting style before, so we had to make a lot of adjustments.
“This year, it’s all about the mental side of hitting”
Fox expressed confidence that UTA will be able to score more runs this season, but countered with the need to be a defensive team that doesn’t need to pile up runs to win games.
She has the tools in place to put that together, beginning with her two preseason all-conference players Nina Villanueva and Britnea Barilli.
“We know people don’t expect us to be the best team, but that’s good for us,” Villanueva said. “It’s more fun when you go and beat teams you don’t expect to beat.”
The Mavericks don’t expect to go blow-to-blow with the top teams on their schedule. Instead, they fancy themselves as an underdog that hangs around and makes a big play to win.
“We consider ourselves ankle-biters,” Fox said. “We’ll get you somehow.”
Along with the baseball team, they’ll be moving into their own clubhouse right next to the field in 2015. Until then, UTA has decided to open up games to the public free of charge.
On top of that, the Mavericks will mill around the field 20 minutes after each game to sign autographs and give fans a chance to meet the players.
“We want young players to come out and meet our team,” Fox said. “A lot of girls want to play Division I softball, so who better to learn from than girls doing that right now.”
Fox didn’t take on this program expecting change overnight, but it was evident there’s a tangible impact being felt by her players.
It remains to be seen if that impact will translate into championships, but there’s progress being made by a coach who’s been there before.