Softball coach Mike Roberts wants his team to play with passion

New coach talks changes to team atmosphere, improvement this season

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It was a cold practice for the Bulls on Tuesday. High winds made for bad softball conditions, but everyone still had a smile on their face.

Players and coaches were joking as they put the rain protector over the field at the end. Players credit the new coaching staff for the enjoyable environment, in particular head coach Mike Roberts.

“You have to create an environment where these players find it easy and enjoyable to do all the hard work,” Roberts said. “That is really what I have tried to do, and I would say it’s been working so far this year.”

Roberts, a New Zealand native, took over the position on Aug. 17 to lead a completely new coaching staff. Almost immediately, Roberts worked on improving team culture.

“It was a change that needed to happen,” said senior outfielder Leandra Jew. “The positivity and enthusiasm he brings has really helped, and you can see that in our play this year.”

The Bulls (14-20, 6-6 Mid-American Conference) are already on track to more than double their wins from last season. The team currently holds a perfect record at home and has improved its batting average from .236 to .263. Junior pitcher Ally Power has even thrown a no-hitter this season.

Roberts knows this is only the beginning of his Buffalo coaching career.

“The team needs a little bit of a rebuild, but we are doing the best with what we have,” Roberts said. “There are some good kids on the team right now. All we need is some more consistency and focus, and then we can reach our goal this year.”

Roberts served as the pitching coach for top Division I teams like the Washington Huskies and the Oregon Ducks. As pitching coach for Oregon, Roberts helped the team to a 1.82 ERA. Roberts also served as the assistant pitching and catching coach for the New Zealand women’s national softball team.

The Bulls won 17 games during senior utility player Danielle Lallos’ best season in her three-year college career. She remains confident the team has the ability to win more than 20 games this season. Lallos said she felt she knew Roberts for years the first time she met him. She praised his ability to listen to players, having an open-door policy and showing a genuine interest in the players’ well-being.

“Losing is hard and it takes its toll,” Lallos said. “You try to stay positive, but it comes to the point where as a team and as a family it is tough to stay positive no matter what. This coach, since day one, has been able to create that energy, and this team has not lost it since.”

One of Roberts’ early goals for the team was to make practice a good experience. Roberts tries to create an environment where players don’t feel stressed to come to the ballpark so they can focus on “taking care of business.”

“He makes you want to be here. He makes you love the game,” Jew said. “It makes you want to get better. I love the new staff. It is so different, and each coach has brought something to help us improve.”

Jew said she could not be happier with how her last year on the team has unfolded. She said she looks forward to her final games.

“He makes me love the sport more than I already do,” Lallos said. “Something changed the first practice we had with him as coach. It is hard to see when you aren’t around us, but it has had a very big impact.”

With the final 18 games of the regular season left, Roberts is hoping to reach the goals he set at the start of the season.

“None of our seniors have been to a conference tournament,” Roberts said. “The perfect goal for us is to get this team there and give the seniors that chance. I want to make this team competitive in this conference. I want to be able to play with any team in the MAC soon.”

The Bulls play a three-game home series against the Bowling Green Falcons (19-9, 2-9 MAC) this weekend. The first game starts Friday at 3 p.m.

Thomas Zafonte is the senior sports editor and can be reached at thomas.zafonte@ubspectrum.com and @Thomas_Spectrum.