On a hundred, thousand, trillion

Peel has brought a new mindset to UB softball in her first season

By OWEN O'BRIEN
On February 6, 2014

  • Trena Peel is LSU's all-time leader in hits, doubles and triples, and she represented Team USA in the Junior Olympics. This season, she is looking to bring her winning mentality to UB in her first season as the softball team's head coach. Chad Cooper, The Spectrum

Trena Peel has swagger.

The first-year Buffalo head softball coach has won an SEC Player of the Year award, represented her country in the Junior Olympic games and excelled as a coach largely because of this simple yet often misunderstood trait.

Swagger is a characteristic Peel wants her teams to encompass. It's become the team's slogan and is inscribed in the back of their t-shirts.

"I tell them, 'I'm ok with being cocky,' because when you are cocky and you can back it up," Peel said. "Hey, it is what it is. Beat us if you don't like it."

Peel was introduced as Buffalo's head coach July 12. She thrived at LSU for four years before playing six seasons professionally. Peel was also a member of the 1999 USA Junior Olympic softball team. As a coach, she brought Hampton University to the NCAA Tournament in just her third season.

Now, she is looking to rebuild UB's program.

Peel is a winner - she won four SEC championships at LSU and a Mid-Eastern Athletic Championship as a head coach last season. When she played for Team USA, however, the team finished in second place to Japan. She didn't take the loss well.

"That was a tough loss," Peel said. "You get all the hype and to get the silver medal, you never want to be second place. I don't even think I kept my silver medal; I gave it to my mom. I didn't even want it. That's just the competitor in me. I don't want silver. I'm not proud of it."

She represented her country again and won championships in 2001, 2002 and 2003, but that one loss has always remained with her.

Peel is no stranger to turning around athletic programs. When she went to LSU, the program was only in its third season after a 15-year hiatus. Still - largely due to her contributions - LSU won four championships in four years. As a senior, Peel was a semifinalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award.

"She was highly driven to win, and I wanted her in the moment when it mattered most," said Glenn Moore, Peel's coach for her first two seasons at LSU and the current Baylor head coach. "I knew her competitiveness would jumpstart her adrenaline. Trena was a risk taker and won most of the time anything significant was on the line. She was shrewd and not interested in useless things or activities that didn't seem to have a productive purpose." 

Peel graduated from LSU in 2003 with 269 hits, 45 doubles and 27 triples - all of which rank first in school history. She is one of nine All-Americans in the program's history and played in its first ever Women's College World Series.

She was heavily scouted and recruited by colleges since early high school. Peel played travel softball in the 18-year-old division since she was 15 and drew interest from "literally every school out there," she said. She had no idea where she wanted to play, though, and therefore entered the recruitment process with an open mind.

The Aurora, Colo., native's first three stops were Georgia, Michigan State and Colorado State. Her next three were scheduled for LSU, Nebraska and Florida. After visiting LSU, she canceled her next two trips. She knew where she wanted to go. The competitive environment that surrounded LSU reeled her in.

"If I went to any other school, I would have been the No. 1 pitcher, No. 1 shortstop, but LSU was the only program where I had to really compete because there were people there better than me that I thought would make me better," Peel said.

Peel had numerous assistant coaching stints and professional league tours before running her own team. When she inherited Hampton's softball program, she was the first full-time head coach at the school. Peel knew changes were necessary.

The administration gave her complete control over the program. They allowed her to fly in recruits and really pitch the values and qualities she wanted in her student-athletes.

"It doesn't matter how good of a career I had or what I know or how good of a coach I am - if I can't go out and recruit kids and bring kids to campus, it doesn't matter," Peel said.

Peel values discipline over everything else. She kicked a few players off her Hampton team in the first season due to violations of team rules. The team struggled initially, but the structure paid off as Hampton won 25 games in 2012 and 34 games in 2013. Hampton won its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Championship and played in the NCAA Tournament in 2013.

With her success came new opportunities. Michigan State University offered her an assistant coaching opportunity after her 2012 season for more money than her head coaching position. She looked into it, but ultimately decided it wasn't the right fit. Peel is a firm believer in going with a "gut instinct," which is how she found herself at UB the following summer.

When UB offered her the head coaching position in 2013, she was told to stay away. All of her colleagues told her the Buffalo job was a trap and she could never recruit or win there. Even Buffalo's previous head coach, Jennifer Teague, told her to reject the Buffalo job. She had built a winner in Hampton and many believed she should stay. Peel didn't listen.

Athletic Director Danny White sold her on his vision for Buffalo athletics and she believed this was a place she could thrive.

"I feel my formula worked at Hampton, so I was like, 'let's move up the ladder and see if it works here,'" Peel said. "I love doubters."

She immediately changed the attitude among the players at UB during workouts and practices with her competitive flare.

"There is competitiveness in everything," said senior pitcher Tori Speckman. "From the lift, conditioning, to practice, they've made it where you want to push yourself. You don't feel the need to have someone tell you."

Peel is taking over a program that has been unsuccessful since joining the Mid-American Conference in 2001 - especially in the last eight seasons. Buffalo has lost more conference games (118) than games won overall (117) in this span.

"I think because there's been such a losing culture, trying to change our mindset and build confidence and knowing that you deserve to win [are the biggest challenges]," Peel said.

Senior shortstop Sammi Gallardo said Peel hasn't come in trying to change everything on a technical level. Peel doesn't try to alter swings for those who've had individual success over their career.

Players say she is able to easily relate to them due to her playing career and short removal from the game. Peel played professionally as recently as 2009.

"It gives me a little bit of credibility with saying I've been there, I've done that, I'm not just a 50-year-old coach who hasn't played in 30 years," Peel said.

She's built a strong relationship with her players and has already shown the ability to recruit. The Bulls signed junior third baseman/catcher Hayley Barrow from the University of Central Florida since signing Peel. Barrow said Peel's winning history and edge is what drew her from Florida to Western New York.

"She told me she was here to make me the best player I could be, and I struggled with that at my previous school because I kind of got down on myself," Barrow said. "I didn't have someone to sit there and tell me that I could be the best player, but she made me believe I could turn into that kind of player."

And her players love her swag and having the opportunity to develop their own.

"[If] you strike out, it doesn't mean you have any less confidence, less swag per se," said sophomore infielder Ryleigh Fitzgerald. "It even lightens the mood a little bit. You are like, 'You know what, I have some swag,' and it helps me personally to relax."

Glenn Moore believes she will have success at Buffalo because, frankly, she doesn't know anything else.

"I also think her talent and confidence with that talent gave her an expectation to win," Moore said. "Winners win; it's that simple. You are either OK with being just OK or you are not. If you are not, you will find a way to win."

The team's newest motto is "why not us?" Inspired by the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, the team believes they are being overlooked in the conference. Peel is trying to instill in her players that they have the talent to win this season, but they must believe in themselves.

Peel begins her newest challenge this weekend, as the Bulls begin their season on the road Friday at Southern University. Buffalo won't play at home until conference play begins on March 28.

 

email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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