On a hundred, thousand, trillion
Peel has brought a new mindset to UB softball in her first season
Published: Thursday, February 6, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 6, 2014 13:02
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.