Softball begins new era under Echo-Hawk

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Luis Barrio, Staff Reporter

Athletic Director Bob Stull announced in May 2013, that Kathleen and James Rodriguez would no longer be head coaches of the UTEP softball program.

Now the program is under the direction of Tobin Echo-Hawk, who was introduced as head coach in June 2013.

“It’s been great!. The transition has been really easy, the kids have responded well and they work hard,” Echo-Hawk said. “When the team responds well, it makes the transition that much easier.”

Before becoming a Miner, Echo-Hawk coached at Portland State, where she led the squad to four NCAA regional appearances and four conference titles in the last five years. She coached 37 All-Conference players during that stint.

At her alma mater of Nebraska (1992-1996), she was a two time All-American and still holds the school record for hits (266) and doubles (48). UTEP will face Nebraska in their first game of the season on Feb. 7.

With UTEP coming off a disastrous 13-35 record and with a 2-21 mark in conference play, coach Echo-Hawk comes in from Portland State having compiled 146 wins and going 78-20 in conference play in five years as their head coach.

“Our game is a game of failure. You are going to fail more than you succeed,” Echo-Hawk said. “You have to learn how to deal with that frustration. We can use it to channel our emotions into a positive way.”

The squad has an number of important veteran players such as senior pitcher/infielder Colleen Hohman.

Last season, Hohman accumulated 61 strikeouts in 82.2 innings with three complete games. She had three homers and logged 13 RBIs.

“I don’t know if I can put into words how excited we are. We are just all thrilled. It’s been really exciting and we can’t wait,” Hohman said. “A lot of it is about the team energy going into the game. A lot of it comes from the support we give each other.”

The vocal leader throughout most of the practice is Hohman. Her encouragement and high optimism and enthusiasm on the team are what permeate through the team.

“I expect really good things from this team. I really want a solid season from this group of girls. I want us to fight every game,” said Hohman.

A little friendly competition to push each other to high season totals will be had this year between Hohman and her slugger teammate Alanna Leasau. The senior infielder led the team last season with eight long balls and 40 RBIs. In one game against Mississippi Valley State, Leasau compiled a school record of eight RBIs that included two grand slams in back-to-back innings in a 12-9 victory.

“I think that’s a good competition we need to talk about having,” Hohman said.

In the outfield is senior Erika Arcuri, who was honored as 2013 Conference USA Newcomer of the Year. Arcuri is a top-10 hitter in the conference, with a batting percentage of .347 last season.

“My goal is still the same, to make All Conference. Hopefully we’ll have a few All Conferences this year from the team,” Arcuri said. “I think we’re a whole new team this year. A lot of girls have stepped up and taken their roles. I’m not too scared about conference this year.”

Picked to finish second to last in the conference, the entire team doesn’t put much emphasis or meaning in the preseason standing.

“If I had a choice I would rather be ranked towards the bottom than the top because that means we are going to play with a chip on our shoulder. If we think we can compete, we will compete,” Echo-Hawk said. “We have a group that is extremely talented, I just don’t know if they have thought they were that talented, up until lately. It’s an exciting feeling that there is an unknown. It’s an unknown of how good can we be.”

This sort of encouragement is what the team loves about their coach and it’s what has made for such a good transition.

“She’s awesome. One of the best coaches I’ve ever had in my softball career. She knows how to talk to you. She knows the game well. She talks to you in a way you understand,” Hohman said.

The Miners will start their 2014 season at the Hotel Encanto Tournament in Las Cruces, where they will face Nebraska and St. Mary’s on Feb. 7, they will then face St. Mary’s and Florida State on Feb. 8 and will close facing New Mexico State on Feb. 9.

“The biggest challenge is making sure that we don’t beat ourselves. I want them to play and be students of the game and read situations,” Echo-Hawk said. “Nothing in our game is black and white. I want to prepare them as much as I can so that they go out there and play a game without me. Where they become the coach instead of just listening to everything I’m saying.”

Luis Barrio may be reached at [email protected]