In her first address since assuming the leading role of the Michigan softball team, incoming head coach Bonnie Tholl gave the softball world its first glimpse of what her tenure will entail for the Wolverines on Monday.
Following an emotional speech in which she heaped praise upon outgoing coach Carol Hutchins — the winningest college softball coach of all time — Tholl paused for a moment, and then proceeded to confidently lay out her plans to continue a winning culture.
“Oklahoma City is not just a destination for the Women’s College World Series, it will be a mindset in our program,” Tholl said. “That mindset will permeate every inch of how we behave, how we communicate and what we do on a daily basis.”
Tholl’s confidence, and her emphasis on returning the Wolverines to Oklahoma City, is not particularly surprising. Reaching the WCWS has long been a benchmark of success in Ann Arbor and throughout the college softball world. But for Tholl, the destination carries added weight.
For the past six years, Michigan has failed to reach Oklahoma City, and much of how Tholl’s tenure is perceived will be based on whether or not she can return the Wolverines to the WCWS.
While a determination to succeed and return the program back to its peak is important, it isn’t a unique trait. Any coach can offer platitudes about work ethic and determination, but Tholl followed these statements with a uniquely clear vision of what her program will value, and it starts with recruiting.
“Identifying top tier talent has been something that we’ve done well here for a while,” Tholl said. “That will continue and our priorities will be in this order: It will be pitching, offensive prowess and multi-positional players.”
Tholl’s order of priorities demonstrates that while Hutchins may be leaving, her style of softball will remain with the program. It has long been apparent that the Wolverines strength is their pitching, but having that emphasis made explicit is somewhat surprising.
But regardless of priorities and their order, Tholl’s emphasis for maintaining the strength of the program starts with recruiting
“We’re gonna dive deep into (recruiting),” Tholl said. “We’re going to continue to recruit athletically superior and academically focused kids here.”
For the time being though, bolstering recruiting may be a tall task. A large part of the allure of Michigan in the softball world was the chance to play for the legend Carol Hutchins. Regardless of Tholl’s accolades, of which there are plenty, the one thing she lacks is branding. She’s not the winningest softball coach of all time, and she can’t be “Hutch.”
But Tholl isn’t trying to be Hutchins. With 28 years of experience and 12 trips to the WCWS as an assistant, she views her role differently.
“I’ve had a front seat to all of it,” Tholl said. “But I’m not here to fill the shoes of Carol Hutchins, I’m here to be a steward of the program.”
And for Tholl, it seems that stewardship entails three things — Pitching, work ethic, and Oklahoma City.