First-year McNeese State head softball coach Mike Smith. (Pankaj Khadka / American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 11:57 AM
Mike Smith hopes first impressions are not misleading.
If nothing else, the first year of Smith's tenure as head coach of the McNeese State softball team wasn't dull, with its share of highs and lows.
The highs were wins over Arizona State, then the No. 1 team in the nation, and Oregon State. You can included a pair of victories over Top 20 Houston to that as well.
But a lost week that saw the Cowgirls fall from first to fifth in the Southland Conference is the low.
"We did have some great moments," said Smith. "We had some wins that can prove to be milestones in this program. But we also and our share of bad outings."
It's all a part of changing a culture. And, while the wins totaled 34, McNeese didn't make the NCAA tournament, the ultimate goal.
"It is disappointing we didn't get a tournament bid, didn't win the Southland," said Smith. "I'm happy with what we accomplished. I loved every part of this year, but we wanted to go further."
Smith didn't want to be sitting at home this weekend when as the national tournament begins.
"We want to get this program to where we are a part of that excitement," said Smith.
That will have to wait another year for the Cowgirls.
While admitting he learned a lot this season, Smith said he had to do more teaching and coaching that he expected. But his biggest challenge was passed quickly.
When the Cowgirls went out to Arizona and beat the defending national champs, the team suddenly had gained new-found attention. That lasted most of the year.
"I wanted to increase the profile of McNeese State softball," said Smith. "I wanted to get people talking about our program and put it on the map when it came to softball locally and nationally."
A few key wins did just that. So was the change in culture.
Smith raised the level of intensity in the program, bringing his baseball past to Cowgirl Diamond. However, he does not deserve all the credit.
The players bought into the new attitude and new challenges, accepting the new coach at face value.
"The girls were the important part of this," said Smith. "They earned everything they got.
"We were not always consistent, but we found out what it takes to win and how hard you have to work."
They also found out that they can compete with the best, but maybe more importantly, they found out they can also be beaten when they don't work hard.
"We have set a good foundation," said Smith. "Not all the walls are up, but we have something to build on."
The future seems promising as well. Smith has a trio of talent recruits from local schools coming to join his program, a few freshmen from outside the state to help and even a couple of key junior college transfers to help seep up the building process.
It seems he's off to a fast start, now Smith has to make sure those first impressions don't prove to be misleading.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org