I talked to Coach Mike Smith about his time in Oxford, the importance of making the postseason, and who he thinks will contribute in 2017.
Coach Mike Smith took over a dwindling softball program in 2014. The 2014 team won only 3 games in conference, and went 22-31 overall. In Coach Smith’s first season as head coach of the program, he led the team to a 6-18 SEC record and a 30-25 overall record, a vast improvement from the past seasons.
In 2016, things changed for the softball program. The team started the season 8-2 and had a fierce look to themselves. They appeared ready to compete in the SEC. The team did just that, compiling an 11-13 SEC record with a 39-20 overall record.
Coach Smith and his band of Rebels made the postseason for the first time in program history, being awarded a position in the Oklahoma regional. Ole Miss battled their way through the tough regional, defeating Tulsa 5-1 on day one, but falling to Oklahoma 9-1 on day two. The Rebels would then face and defeat Wichita State in an elimination game, 4-0. The Rebels had earned a spot in the regional final.
Ole Miss faced #3 overall seed Oklahoma for the second time in as many days. The Rebels would have to beat the Sooners twice to win the regional. Oklahoma, the eventual WCWS champion, would defeat the Rebels 3-0 to advance to a super regional.
This defeat was the end for the Rebels season, but the beginning of something big. Coach Smith and his team had captured to eyes of Rebel fans all over the country. Coach Smith and crew look to build on that success in the future.
I asked Coach Smith a few questions about the direction the softball program is headed and a few other questions.
Randy Morgan: Hello Coach Smith, thank you for taking time with us today. Could you introduce yourself to the OleHottyToddy fans?
Mike Smith: First off, It’s GREAT TO BE A REBEL!! What an amazing year we had and we look forward to a bright future. My name is Mike Smith, born in San Diego, California and went to college in California at a small Christian School in San Fernando Valley called The Masters College.
I played college baseball there and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. I played pro baseball for 11 years all over the country. I’ve been married for 23 years and have a beautiful wife, Ellen, that has been with me throughout this entire journey (minor league baseball and college coaching).
We have two great kids, Ashlee (19) who will be a sophomore at Ole Miss and is majoring in Broadcast Journalism, actively involved with FCA and is one of the volleyball managers for Coach (Steven) McRoberts; our son, Tyler (16), will be Junior at Oxford High School and he plays for the two-time state baseball champions.
I have been coaching college softball for 19 years and love this sport dearly. This sport has given me an opportunity to work with great players and coaches, taken me all over the country and internationally.
I’ve won a few, lost a few and was fortunate to win a National Championship in 2009 with Cal Baptist University, which was one of the great highlights of my coaching career. This season at Ole Miss was added to my highlight top 10 list.
What we have been able to do here in Oxford and just a short amount of time has been truly amazing. These young ladies have really worked hard and bought in to what I wanted to do here from day one and they were rewarded this year for they work put in.
RM: Softball is a growing sport at Ole Miss, due to the recent success in postseason play this year. How do you envision the future of Ole Miss softball with you as the head coach?
MS: BRIGHT. We have a great recruiting class coming in and have top recruits committed for the future; add those with the players we have in the program now, one of the top coaching staff’s in the country, support from athletic administration, the campus and community, and you have a great recipe for success.
It’s going to happen here in Oxford. We are going to continue to get better each and every year. We will have our teams primed and ready to compete for championships. Ole Miss and Rebel Nation will be proud of their softball program here.
More from Ole Miss Softball
- Ole Miss Softball: Rebels fall to Cats, exit College Station early
- Ole Miss Softball: Rebels come back, beat Miss State in SEC Tourney
- Ole Miss Softball: Rebels rack up SEC regular season honors
- Ole Miss Softball: Poor officiating is killing SEC sports
- Ole Miss Softball: No.15 Rebels ready for SEC Tourney
RM: How do you think the post-season appearance will help the Ole Miss softball program?
MS: It will prove to our players that we can play with anyone in the country and be successful. Ole Miss Softball is relevant in college softball and we are here to stay. Finishing the year as a Top-25 team in the nation is so special; the hard work, discipline, team chemistry and work ethic these young ladies showed this year was something special and they were rewarded in so many ways and respected enough to gain a Top-25 (#24 ranking) in the final poll.
Our postseason appearance and playing on national TV has already bolstered recruiting, present and future. The top players in the country are now placing Ole Miss and Oxford as one of their top choices to play/attend school.
With all that Ole Miss, the SEC and TV have to offer these up and coming Student-Athletes, we’re are excited to be in the recruiting mix for these talented players.
RM: It was announced a few days ago that pitcher Brittany Finney would be transferring from Oklahoma, what are your expectations for her and how do you see her contributing to the team in 2017?
MS: We look for Brittany to come in and make an immediate impact in our program. We look for her to earn one of the top spots in the pitching rotation and pitch some big games for us. She will be a great addition to our pitching staff (Alyssa Clayton, Jr.; Elisha Jahnke, Jr.; Krista Jacobs, So; Kaitlyn Lee, Jr.; Morgan Bruce, Fr.; Kiriany Hornberger, Fr.)
What Brittany brings to this team that only Taryne Mowatt (pitching coach) and her share is winning a NCAA Division I National Championship. They both know what it takes to be one of the final eight teams in OKC and what it takes to hoist that trophy in the end.
Taryne has already made an immediate impact with her coaching and now we look for Brittany to do the same as a player. Brittany is a power pitcher that changes speeds well. She will compliment what we already have in this program.
RM: Since being named the coach of Ole Miss, how has your relationship with local coaches and players been? Do you believe that the local area produces enough talent to support a program like Ole Miss?
MS: My relationship with local coaches is pretty good. I have had good conversations regarding the talent here in Mississippi, been to a few high school games and spoke at a Mississippi High School coaching clinic this past year. We have a new high school softball coach at Oxford High School, so we have already set up a time to meet and just talk shop about how we can help each other locally and in the state.
I know there are talented high school softball players in the state of Mississippi. Softball in the state is behind the average national talent pool when it comes to high school players at the top. I think a big issue is Mississippi still plays slow pitch softball competitively and this takes away from preparing these kids to play fast pitch during their regular season and sets them back when they are trying to compete in the fall on travel ball teams.
It’s a big adjustment from seeing a slow pitch ball from the pitcher and a fast pitched ball. Defensively, they probably get more looks from balls off the bat, which can most definitely help, but offensively this is where the struggle comes in. Offense is what most college coaches love to see and these kids need to be ready to compete in front of them when given the opportunity.
This happens a lot in the fall when these high school kids are playing travel ball. Back and forth between slow and fast pitch is definitely tough. Don’t get me wrong, these kids can compete with the best of them and they are talented, but need to compete day in and day out doing the same thing and that is to play fast pitch as much as they can.
RM: How does the school support Title IX programs like yours? Do you believe it to be on par with your expectations?
MS: Ole Miss supports softball well on campus and I am thankful for what we have here. We have a good softball facility, good budget and the support we have from athletic administration, faculty and staff is great.
The more we are successful, the more support we will receive I’m sure. I think what could help us more than anything is to get people to come out and support the team by attending the games (fall and spring), showing that we can pack the place out.
The support is there and more things can happen within our program. I will take this from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Well, we are building a Top- 25 softball program and we hope that people will come see what is so special about our program.
Then, the more people who come, the more support we get, the more things can happen with this program. I love the direction of this program, I love the commitment the university has made to this program and I love the people I get to work with each day. This is another recipe for success here at Ole Miss.
RM: Can you give us a few names to watch for this season, players who you expect to contribute the most?
MS: I have a few I think will make an impact this next year.
Hailey Lunderman (So.) – SS (had a great season as a freshman; Top-10 finalist for Freshman of
the Year – local Mississippi product)
Elantra Cox (Jr.) – OF
Ashton Lampton (So.) – 3B (local Mississippi product)
Alyssa Clayton (R-Jr.) – LHP (missed most of the season with an injury – looks to make an impact
on the pitching staff)
Miranda Strother (Sr.) – OF
Sarah Van Schaik (So.) – C (local Mississippi product)
Kylan Becker (So.) – OF
Brittany Finney (So.) – RHP
Dominique Salinas (Fr.) – OF
Morgan Bruce (Fr.) – RHP
Kaitlyn Lee (Jr.) – Local Mississippi product
Alyssa Gonzales (Fr.) – 1B/DP – Power Hitter
Gabby Alvarez (Fr.) – 3B/1B – Power Hitter
RM: Lastly, what is your favorite thing about Oxford since taking the job?
MS: The people I work with and the players I get to interact with every day. It’s an amazing group and I am so blessed. The food is pretty darn good here too. You can’t really go wrong in Oxford regarding food, especially on The Square.
I would like to thank Coach Smith for taking the time to talk to OHT and the OHT staff for coming up with some great questions.