MURRAY— Coaching trees are rarely something that one can point out early into the head of the tree’s career; however, on some rare occasions, special coaches create special players and assistants that make immediate impacts elsewhere.
Now, for the last two years, a new coaching tree is taking over. Marshall, Graves and Calloway are all assisted by these former Racers that learned from Racer head coach Kara Amundson, and that’s just the ones in Region 1.
Mallory Newton took over as head coach for Trent Lovett at Marshall County last year and immediately added to her staff two former teammates that she knew could have an impact. Cayla Levins, a former outfielder with a .292 career batting average and 20 stolen bases, plus CheyAnne Ludovissie, formerly CheyAnne Gaskey, who recorded 490 career strikeouts and held a 2.77 ERA.
Over at Graves County, Maggie Glass, who was a standout defensive shortstop in her time at Murray State, and Jocelynn Rodgers, who was the starting catcher in 195 games during her four-year career, both joined the Lady Eagles coaching staff this past season.
Calloway County is also part of this group that has added a former Racer to the mix, with Christian Cox joining as an assistant this year.
Under Amundson, these athletes learned to emphasize doing the little things and keeping high energy in the dugout and on the field, and that has translated now to the high school level.
“Coach K (Amundson) always pushed for us to be super hype in the dugout,” Ludovissie said. “I’m not going to say that I didn’t see that very much before, but I just think it’s a lot more elevated now and I think that’s come through younger coaches.”
It’s been a subtle change, but there is a distinct difference between the voracity with which the softball players cheer in the dugout with the Racer influence compared to those that don’t.
“I think our energy as coaches we got from her (Amundson) and always trying to stay positive,” Glass said. “A lot of the information we learned in the four years with her, we’ve kind of transferred to the girls that we are coaching now.”
Getting the energy up isn’t necessarily meant to get into your opponent’s head. Its mostly for the players to stay upbeat, and to maintain focus.
“If you feel good, you play well,” Newton said. “In the old coaching style, it’s if you play good, you feel good. Well, I think young women have reversed that and know you’ve got to make these kids feel good in order to play good. So being up in the dugout and things like that, I took away from college.”
The results speak for themselves. Over the last two years, Marshall County has won back-to-back Region 1 championships under Newton and her two assistants. Graves County reached the Region 1 championship after knocking off McCracken County 10-0 in the first year with Racer assistants, and Calloway was back in the Region 1 tournament for the second time since 2013.
“The correlation between all of these Division I athletes becoming coaches and Region 1 becoming better definitely goes together,” Newton said.
While the results are speaking for themselves, the coaches made it known that for the most part, being on this side is much harder than actually playing in the games themselves.
“The coaching part, you’re not in it, you can’t do it for them, you really have to teach them the ways and you learn that you have to tell them every little thing,” Rodgers said. “They want to know every little thing, and they’re here to learn just as much as we are here to learn from them.”
It’s also a chance for them to reflect on what they experienced while at Murray State with the newfound knowledge of what it’s like to coach.
“It’s more stressful on this side than it was playing,” Glass said. “Now I understand why she (Amundson) was so stressed out and mad all the time after games, because she couldn’t control what was happening.”
For Cox, this wasn’t a planned part of her life and the challenges are much different than what she faced as a player with control.
“Coaching is hard,” Cox said. “I wasn’t looking to get into coaching whenever I got done. I actually stepped away from the game for a few years until I started coaching my own kids, but it is definitely hard being on the sidelines and not being able to control some of the variables.”
However, there was one former player who said she much prefers the role of coach, and it comes as no surprise that it is Marshall’s own Mallory Newton.
“My dad coached, my uncle coached, and I always say that I didn’t necessarily go to Murray State to play, I went to Murray State to coach,” Newton said. “If someone were to ask me why I went to Murray State, I’d say ‘to learn to be a coach.’”
Newton’s journey was different from most. She fought injuries throughout most of her college career but said that’s a big reason why she feels so comfortable on the sideline.
“From that program, I learned how to play the game correctly and I learned so much,” Newton said. “I was hurt a lot of my career, so by being hurt, I think it made me a lot better coach, because I was able to step back and watch them play and watch how Coach K would handle situations. So at the time, I didn’t really understand things were never going my way … but now looking at it, it made me a better coach.”
Learning from someone like Amundson has proven beneficial not just for these coaches, but for the high school athletes that are now getting to play under similar coaches that want to do things like she did.
“The way she treats her players and how she goes about things, we’ve tried to mimic because we felt so loved whenever we were there with her that we wanted to make sure we did the same thing with the kids we coach,” Newton said.
Cox had similar thoughts on the way Amundson approached the players and how that made her into the type of coach she is now.
“She (Amundson) is a big believer in hard work, very influential on me,” Cox said. “I think the biggest thing that she taught me was caring about the person.”
What really stands out is how well these Racers have been able to take what they learned and translate it into success now at the high school level.
“The way she approached the small things, I think that rubbed off on me more than anything,” Ludovissie said. “She taught me a lot about being a leader, and so I really try to get that across to my pitchers because as a pitcher, you are one of the main focuses of the game. So you have to be strong mentally and you have to be able to go in there and lead your team.”
These former teammates even see a little bit of Amundson in each other, with Newton occasionally being told that she reminds her assistants of Amundson, or Cox using the catchphrase “One time” during a game. But it was CheyAnne that stood out to Cox as the most like Amundson.
“Cheyenne, her demeanor,” Cox said. “She kind of reminds me of coach.”
With the way the Marshall team has played the last couple of years, we may see a slight shift here in Region 1 as far as what kind of coaches are pursued to fill vacancies and the players will be there, because once softball is in your blood, it’s hard to get away from it. At least that was the case for the Marshall trio.
“I wanted to be a coach because I enjoy the game of softball and I have a lot of fun with it,” Levins said. “I feel like I have a lot of knowledge I can pass on to whoever wants to learn and listen.”
“I couldn’t get away from the game,” Ludovissie said. “I would’ve never thought I’d love it as much as I do but I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
“Coaching for me comes more naturally. I don’t know why,” Newton said. “I feel more in place as a coach than I did as a player. I feel like I played ball to get to be a coach.”
For now, the landscape has changed in region one and it will be interesting to see how long the Amundson tree can continue to create extraordinary coaches.