Softball takes coaching change in stride

Head Coach Kelliner Croushore and Delaney Russell (sophomore) talking during practice at Occidental College. Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. Halle Steckel/The Occidental

Ali Haehnel resigned from her position as head coach of Occidental’s softball team Jan. 27. According to infielder Kristin LeBlanc (sophomore), an emergency meeting with the team was called the same day, and it was announced that former assistant coach Kelliner Croushore would be taking over as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The change in head coach came just six days before the team’s season opener against University of St. Katherine Feb. 2.

Croushore is from Claremont, CA and played Division I softball at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA from 2010–2014. Croushore has coaching experience at the Division I and Division III levels, coaching at Rhodes College and Georgetown University before joining the Occidental staff in 2019.

Croushore said Haehnel’s resignation was met with an emotional reaction from her players.

“The team took the news as well as could be expected. It was very shocking,” Croushore said. “There were a lot of emotions, and you could see on everyone’s face the ‘What?’ of it all.”

LeBlanc said the coaching change was challenging for the team so close to the start of the season.

“The timing is terrible and yes, it’s been a big change, we all have felt it,” LeBlanc said. “But what are we going to do about that? We just have to roll with it.”

Croushore said she also had to come to terms with Haehnel’s resignation in a very short time frame.

“I found out the same day as the girls,” Croushore said. “I was asked by Shanda [Ness, director of athletics] if I could be the interim head coach for the season, and I absolutely am happy to do that and I want to continue to be the head coach further down the line. I always wanted to make the jump to head coach, I just didn’t expect it to happen right now.”

Four players discussing strategies during women’s softball full-field practice at Occidental College in LA. Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. Halle Steckel/The Occidental

Captain Drew Samson (sophomore) said she was elated to now have Croushore in the head coach position.

“We love her so much, she’s amazing,” Samson said. “She’s been around softball longer than any of us have been alive, so we take everything she has to say with the utmost respect because she is absolutely one of the best coaches we’ve ever had.”

Just six days into the job, Croushore led the Tigers into their first game of the season, a doubleheader against St. Katherine at Bell Field. Croushore said she learned a lot from the experience and was proud of her players’ performance.

“I was definitely nervous,” Croushore said. “I was trying to figure out how to do all the things that a head coach does on the spot.”

While the Tigers dropped both their matches to St. Katherine, they have since rebounded and recorded their first win of the season, 5–4 against Brandeis University Feb. 17.

Looking forward to the season ahead, Croushore said she does not feel the coaching change has altered what the team hopes to achieve.

“I don’t think it’s a building year or an adjustment year by any means,” Croushore said. “I still expect them to be competitive and to bring their A game every time.”

Samson said she feels the team is using Haehnel’s departure as additional motivation.

“I think it’s actually fired us up a little bit more because we were like, ‘Well, if she’s going to leave, we are going to do better than she set out for us to do,'” Samson said.

Both Samson and LeBlanc said they held no resentment towards Haehnel and respected her decision to accept a position outside of college athletics closer to home.

“I was happy that coach Ali was doing what was right for her family, and I wasn’t mad at her for doing the right thing for herself,” LeBlanc said.

Croushore also said Haehnel laid such a solid foundation for the season that she has not felt the need to make significant changes to the team.

“I’ve changed a few things,” Croushore said. “I’ve definitely included some things that are my flair, but I’m not trying to change their whole world by any means.”

Samson said the team is now focused on getting to work and have their sights set on upsetting Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and qualifying for the SCIAC playoff tournament.

The Tigers’ next home games will take place Feb. 29 at 12 and 2 p.m. against Chapman University in a doubleheader showcasing games two and three of a threegame series.