New coaches generally need time to implement their systems, recruit new talent, and foster a culture. No matter the sport, a grace period of at least a couple years is generally thought to be reasonable.
Apparently Indiana softball coach Shonda Stanton wasn’t looking to wait that long. After a 4-19 start to the season, Indiana flipped the script, going 21-10 the rest of the way. Perhaps it was her lengthy experience at the helm of another NCAA program that helped her orchestrate a shortcut.
Stanton came to Indiana last year from Marshall where she was head coach for 18 seasons. She is the winningest coach in Marshall program history with 560 victories. Along the way Stanton led 12 seasons with 30 or more wins.
Stanton came to Indiana with a reputation for coaching “small ball”, a strategy that involves methodically getting runners on base and incrementally moving them home. Under that approach Marshall led the nation in stolen bases three times during Stanton’s tenure.
Small ball can be an approach that takes some time for players to learn and adapt to.
The season seemed to turn after a late March Big Ten opening series sweep of a ranked Ohio State team in Bloomington. From there the Hoosiers knew that they could compete with the best teams, and they stayed in the hunt for a Big Ten title to the end.
A couple weeks later after Indiana took three straight from Maryland on the road for its third sweep out of four Big Ten series, it became apparent that Coach Stanton’s culture and system was truly taking hold. She had this to say after the series:
“What I’m pleased with is each of our athletes are having their moment,”
“If you look at our stats and our numbers, you’re probably looking and saying ‘how are we doing what we’re doing?’ It’s just about being a team. Collectively, when we come together and play hard, take advantage of our opportunities, good things happen. That’s what we saw this weekend. We were able to hit the long ball, we were able to play small ball, we were able to steal bases. I’m very proud of this group and what we were able to accomplish this weekend on the road.”
At that point Indiana was 10-2 in conference play, good for 2nd place. Ultimately, IU finished in 3rd place in the Big Ten with a 17-6 record, which is tied with the 2011 season for the most Big Ten wins for Indiana since 1994.
That early bad start is still haunting the Hoosiers, however. Despite the strong conference showing, Indiana is still 25-29 overall and ranked No. 115 in the RPI. That profile will likely make obtaining an at-large bid to the 64 team NCAA tournament unlikely.
Accordingly, it will come down to the Big Ten tournament, where the winner automatically qualifies for the NCAA tournament. As the No. 3 seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament, IU will await the winner of Thursday’s matchup between No. 6 Illinois and No. 11 Maryland. Indiana’s game will be Friday at 2:30 Eastern.
The Big Ten tournament is a 12-team, single-elimination event being played at Wisconsin. BTN will televise all of the games.
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