Petrini and Her Staff Have No Time For Rest In The Off-Season
By David Hutchinson
The last out of a softball game is always a loss for one team, but two weeks ago Penn State was on the wrong end of the final out against N.C. State in the NCAA Regionals. While the out and the loss may have signified the end of the season, for Penn State's coaching staff it also signified the start of the "off-season." The softball off-season is a time seldom spoken about, but is a time just as important and busy as the grueling regular season.
Once the doors close on the post season players meeting, head coach Robin Petrini and her staff begin the necessary and essential routine of the off-season. Her staff approaches the summer months with several goals in mind, ranging from logistics to recruiting.
As a coach, she first insures her players are taken care of both academically and athletically. Softball has given these athletes an opportunity unlike any other, but academics are what will determine their futures. Petrini and her staff are cognizant of the potential pitfalls of a hectic sports schedule on an athlete's schoolwork and follow the athletes' progress in the classroom as close as they would on the softball field.
To be academically sound is important, but for all the hard work the student- athletes put it, recognition is also a welcomed bonus. Due to her committee work with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), Petrini has the ability to watch some of her players achieve that recognition first hand by participating in the process while serving on the All-Region and All-America committees. Petrini uses these forums to lobby for the deserving players of her region, which include the Nittany Lions, as well as to help select and honor the most talented players in the country. This year's All-America selection took place on May 28th. Petrini, along with nine other regional members, flew out to Oklahoma City, site of the College World Series, for an all-day conference. Several energy drinks later the committee released the 2007 NFCA Louisville Slugger All-American team. One can assume Petrini was pleased with the results as Penn State center fielder Danielle Kinley was selected for second-team honors.
Once Petrini's committee work and duties to the current roster are done, she and staff must work to insure the future is as successful as the past. Recruiting is the most notable aspect of the college sports' off-season, and according to Petrini, softball recruiting is done two years in advance. The outlook to the future allows Petrini to fill positions ahead of time, hopefully eliminating the desperate scramble to replace a graduating starter. Staying on top of the recruiting scene is essential to producing talent for repeated success.
There are 50 possible dates that the team's staff may attend for recruiting, making the summer a busy time. University Park is the base for all the explorations to the hundreds of tournaments taking place. High school kids are out of school by now, and are doing some traveling of their own. They are looking to catch the eye of a top-level college coaches like Petrini or her assistants, Jen McIntyre and Jocelyn Forrest. Two of the coaches are constantly on the road, compiling recruiting prospects as well as miles on the car and in the air.
Tournaments are typically Friday through Sunday, leaving Monday and Thursday for travel. Though constant travel may give the appearance of a vacation, it is far from it. Potential superstars play all hours of the day, looking for the possibility of reaching the next level. The coaches will arrive at the field at 8 a.m. and venture back to the hotel by 11 p.m., for three consecutive days, leaving no mistake that these trips all business.
The summer is a time for relaxation and for the majority of the working world, a slower time, but for the Petrini, the summer flies by compared to the fall because of how long we are on the road. Life on the road is an accepted inconvenience in the coaching world. It takes its toll on the daily lives of the coaches, but to be a successful, sacrifices are made. The mundane daily tasks must be condensed in the week, but soon become the relaxing portion of the summer.
While the coaches grind through summer recruiting, the players are back home, maintaining their responsibility to the program and its off-season conditioning. Though sitting in the sun or on the couches all summer is the ideal for some college students, many players join summer leagues back home to maintain their skills. The hope for the dedication in the off-season is for the team to not miss a beat when they return in the fall.
"If the players come back out of shape, it bogs down the first weeks of practice; mostly with complaints of sore arms," said Petrini. An important aspect of a program like this is the trust between a coach and players to know each person is working in the best interest of the program's future. Petrini adamantly spoke of her hands-off off-season with her players, explaining, they are adults now in a lot of ways, and I don't need to breathe down their necks for things to get done. This type of driven attitude of Petrini's athletes has helped make Penn State's softball program into one of the premier programs in the country.
Looking ahead, the future is bright for this upcoming season after the Lions graduated only one starter in 2007. The return of All-Americans Danielle Kinley and Ashley Esparza, plus a solid pitching staff gives this summer and fall an even larger air of promise and anticipation.
But first, it's time for the "off-season."