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McNeese State head softball coach Mike Smith. (Steven Chambers / American Press)<br>

McNeese State head softball coach Mike Smith. (Steven Chambers / American Press)

Gazzolo: Smith, Cowgirls just getting started

Last Modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 6:47 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

When he left the hotbed of softball in Southern California, Mike Smith was looking to make a bigger name for himself and his new program.

He didn’t just want to take his new McNeese State team to the next level, he wanted the Cowgirls to get noticed, and not just locally.

First he changed the physical look of the program by fixing up their home at Cowgirl Stadium. Then Smith did his own public relations tour, promoting his new program whenever possible.

His team became a bigger part of the community, seen at more than just softball events.

Next came the opening week upset of the top-ranked team in the land last year, Arizona State.

First impressions were good, but Smith wanted to build a team known more for its consistency rather than a one-hit wonder.

Well, it may just be six votes, but at least somebody has noticed.

On Tuesday, the same day when McNeese ran its winning streak to 11 games, the Cowgirls picked up six points in the latest national college softball poll voted on by coaches.

While that hardly makes a blip on most softball radar screens it is big news at McNeese.

“I was surprised,” said Smith. “It is pretty cool because the other coaches are voting, which makes it nice.”

The votes show that the program is on the right track, that the work of the young players, many of them local products, is paying off and it shows others are taking notice.

This seemingly small step could go a long way in turning McNeese into what Smith wants: a power in the South. Sounds strange to say now, but 18 months ago who would have figured the Cowgirls would be riding an 11-game streak into the third weekend of Southland Conference play and getting national attention?

“It’s nice, but …” Smith said of the attention.

For this team the work is in the but.

Smith is about winning. He built an NAIA power at California Baptist in Riverside, but saw his teams play in the shadows of softball elite in Southern California.

“That is one of the reasons I wanted to come here, to build a program that could get noticed,” said Smith, who is six wins away from No. 700 in his career.

But the Cowgirls are not satisfied. Smith has his team believing there is more out their to accomplish.

“Coach pushes us; he is intense,” said freshman Emily Vincent of Sulphur. “But that is what we want. We want to get better, we want to win conference championships and go to regionals.”

At 5-0 in the SLC McNeese is out in front, but …

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Smith said. “It’s not where you start, or where you are in the middle but where you are at the end. We want to be that one team left standing.”

Fair enough, but the foundation has been laid as the Cowgirls improved to 24-7 after the 1-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Tuesday.

Fast start this year, getting national votes, knocking off top-ranked teams are all nice, but don’t tell Smith his team has made a name for itself just yet.

“You don’t make a statement with one win,” he said. “You make a statement by winning your conference tournament, making and winning regionals, making the College Softball World Series. That’s how you make statements.

“We are just getting started.”

It does seem that the Cowgirls head coach has bigger things planned than just six votes, but it is a good first step.

Now, McNeese wants to take the next one, and then one after that.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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