Softball Coaching Turnover

Venturella huddles with her infield players during a conference matchup in 2021. (Photo by Clara Richards | Student Life)

On May 9th, the women’s softball team was glued to a big screen as the names for the postseason flashed across the screen. Bethel. Bethany Lutheran. Buena Vista. And finally, in the bottom blue rectangle, WashU. 

There were celebrations. And then the planning began. 

COVID-19 complicated the team’s travel. The team members all took tests, and some of the athletes tested positive, forcing them into isolation housing. Plus, the pandemic had created a shortage of bus drivers: assistant coach Roya St. Clair called thirty bus companies from Minnesota to Atlanta. They ended up flying in two batches, and they landed to a tornado warning.

And afterward, the coaches still had to figure out how to get the team home. 

“It was chaotic getting out there, but our coaches work magic,” said sophomore Ashley Kennedy in May.

That magic? Really just hard work and persistence. It was a lot of behind-the-scenes phone calls and an enormous dedication to the program. It paid off, with the team netting two postseason wins for the first time since 2010. 

The proof of Venturella’s coaching abilities lies in her win percentage and postseason appearances. It also can be found in the loyalty and buy-in that she cultivated within the team. Even after four years at WashU, pitcher Holly Stoner and infielder Katie Gould made the decision to return as graduate students to play another season of softball.

“When [Gould] said that she was coming back, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing,’” Venturella said in May. “I’m excited for Katie, but I do think…it says a lot about the culture that we have, and the program that we are continuing to try to develop: when people want to come back and do come back. That’s a statement. I think that says a lot right there.” 

After leading WashU softball to the postseason, head coach Michelle Venturella and assistant coach St. Clair announced their departure from the University on August 1, 2022. Venturella’s resignation is the fifth head coach change in the WashU athletic department since 2020, following a turnover in the football, women’s tennis, golf, and women’s soccer coaching staff.

An Athletic Department press statement said that Venturella was stepping away from coaching to pursue more time with her family and a chance to develop leaders and teams through Built to Lead.

Venturella led the program to two NCAA regional appearances over six years as head coach. After a 27-14 record her first year, unplayable field conditions made it difficult to get games in. At one point, she said she only had five practices in four weeks because of weather on the field. But with a full schedule and a new turf field, the team had a dominant 2022 campaign with an appearance at the regional final.

“The great thing about Coach V is that she cares so deeply about this program, and she’s leaving it in place of love,” said Summer Hutcheson, the administrative contact for the team. “And so she’s been walking with me through this whole thing to make sure that the team is supported.” 

Currently, a search committee is attempting to fill both head and assistant coaching roles. It took the department a few days to get the job posted, and they utilized their network to attract a diverse pool of applicants. Now, they will sort the applicant pool and start reading applications. They’ve started to do initial interviews and screenings, hoping to have applicants on campus in the next few weeks. 

The process of hiring a new coach typically takes between six and eight weeks, but Hutcheson emphasized the expediency of the search.

“It’s really critical to have someone here for our student-athletes,” she said. “We tried to get out ahead of things a little bit faster than we’ve been able to in the past, or have done in the past. But my hope is, again, that we’re getting someone here soon, probably in the next three to four weeks, so that they can get started with that coach.”

Despite the uncertainty about the future coaching staff, Hutcheson has emphasized clarity with the team. She’s made an effort to answer their question, keep communication ongoing, and keep them updated on the administrative process. “We’ll just make sure that they are getting some connection with staff members to feel like they have support from me, support from our sports performance coaches,” she said. “And we’re making sure that we’re moving forward in a way that they can come talk to me.”

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