Never in 14 years of Big 12 Conference softball has Kansas University ever won a regular-season championship.
Megan Smith, the Jayhawks’ new head coach, hopes she can end the drought.
“The Big 12 is a great conference,” said Smith, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant at LSU. “But, as a coach, my goal is to try to outwork every other coach.”
After making the multi-hour drive to Lawrence from Baton Rouge, La., on Thursday, Smith planned to be in her KU office for the first time today, acclimating and meeting as many people as possible, including current and incoming players.
More of the same is on tap this weekend, then she’ll be leaving Monday for a recruiting trip to Colorado where she’ll scout a showcase tournament in search of possible recruits for 2010 and 2011.
Smith will inherit a Kansas team that underachieved last spring, finishing with a 21-31 record under coach Tracy Bunge, who announced her retirement a couple of weeks before the season ended.
Personnel losses were heavy. Dougie McCaulley and Val Chapple, the only Jayhawks who hit over .300, were seniors as was Val George, the club’s top pitcher.
Back, however, are outfielders Allie Clark and Liz Kocon who slugged 10 and nine home runs, respectively. Clark and Kocon also tied for the club RBI lead with 30 apiece.
“Obviously, there’s some good talent returning,” Smith said, “and I’ve seen several of the incoming freshmen, and they’re really impressive.”
Bunge’s last recruiting class is comprised of outfielders Rosie Hull and Maggie Hull of Free State High; shortstops Matte Haack of Katy, Texas, and Mariah Montgomery of Ralston, Neb.; catcher Kendall Patterson of McLouth; and pitcher Alex Jones of Enid, Okla.
Smith’s challenge is to fit the pieces into the correct slots while trying to change the mind-set.
“The key is finding consistency and achieving excellence every day,” Smith said. “And I think that will happen quickly.”
Still, recruiting is, as always, the No. 1 priority of any coach and Smith will start, as Bunge did, with one strike because Arrocha Ballpark, KU’s home diamond, remains half-finished. There are still no permanent stands, concessions or restrooms.
“The field itself is really nice,” Smith said, “and the plans for the upgrades are wonderful.”
When those upgrades will be completed, however, is anybody’s guess, although she was told the they are a “priority with the athletic director.”
Smith is married with a son who will be 2 years old in August. Her husband, Paul Buske, works in sales for a national firm and, she said, he is hopeful of remaining with that company.
“But right now we really don’t know what the future holds for him,” she added.
Among Smith’s other tasks will be to complete her staff. Christi Musser is expected to remain as a holdover from Bunge’s cadre. The leading candidate for the other slot is Adam Roorbach, a current LSU aide who worked with Smith at Western Carolina in 2006.