UB softball hires third head coach in three years
One year after announcing Mike Roberts as head softball coach, UB softball announced his departure from the program in August. Roberts left for an associate head coaching position at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Now, assistant coach Mike Ruechel takes the reigns of a Buffalo softball team that was only on its way up with Roberts at the helm.
Ruechel enters into his second year at Buffalo and as one of the shortest tenured coaches on campus. Softball has had three different head coaches in three years consisting of Trena Peel, Roberts and Ruechel. Both Peel and Roberts left for non head-coach positions.
The coaching turnstile of softball is inconsistent with the goals and intentions of athletics and its 15 other varsity teams. Men’s basketball head coach Nate Oats, women’s basketball head coach Felisha Legette-Jack and football head coach Lance Leipold all received extensions on their current contracts while Andy Bashor and Vicki Mitchell have both spent over 10 years with swimming and diving and track and field, respectively.
“I was excited for the challenge and the big reason that I was excited is that I believe we have started something here that's going to end up being really good,” Ruechel said. “We've changed the culture and I want to keep that going. I think we have quality kids both on and off the field. I enjoyed working with them and want to continue working with them and knowing that, it was an easy decision for me when they asked if I wanted the position.”
Unlike other coaches, Ruechel will have an easier transition into the role. He’s already spent a year with the team working on their hitting mechanics and improving their swings. Buffalo also retained all eight recruits for this upcoming season and all who verbally committed for 2019 as well, according to athletics staff.
“It's huge,” Director of Softball Operations Matt Meyer said. “Definitely helpful for us to maintain the roster we originally created a few months ago and to know that there is still confidence in Coach Ruechel that they want to come to Buffalo speaks very highly of our program and university.”
On Monday, the team announced the addition of pitching coach Jody Hennigar. Hennigar has 45 years of experience and won the Canadian National Championship at Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1980. Since then, Hennigar has won five medals with the Canadian National Men’s Fastpitch Team as well.
The university still has not commented on if Ruechel is the long-term option as head coach.
“That I don't know,” Meyer said. “We're taking it day by day and right now this is what we got. We're going to make the best of what we got and go for that MAC Championship.”
The addition of Hennigar boosts the team’s ability to develop and train pitchers for this season. It also fills the gap of Roberts’ departure, a former Pac-12 pitching coach. Hennigar is also a large reason the Bulls retained its recruits, according to Ruechel.
Ruechel plans on continuing off of the foundation Roberts built from last season and shares the same eventual goal of winning a Mid-American Conference Championship.
Roberts coaching style included a lot of talking through adversity, using repetition and seeing what players did wrong, according to senior catcher Catrell Robertson.
Robertson will have a different head coach for three of her four years at Buffalo but feels that transition will be smooth and is not nervous with Ruechel leading the team.
One thing that defined Roberts in his time here was his removal of sophomore catcher Jessica Goldyn from the team. Goldyn was batting .404 through 30 games at the time of her removal. Roberts has a penchant for structure and the way players carry themselves on and off the field, showing no favoritism when he removed one of the team’s best hitters. Goldyn has since transferred to a different school.
Roberts praised Ruechel in a June interview with The Spectrum.
“He's perfected his craft as a hitting coach,” Roberts said. “To be able to add a little bit here and there to make our hitters better that's what the players were wanting. The way Mike teaches hitting, the ways the players bought into the way he wanted to do it worked out well for us.”
Ruechel will continue to develop the culture he and Roberts set for UB Softball, priding itself on academics and competition between players, but it is not yet known if he is here for the long term or another peg in the search for a head coach.
Nathaniel Mendelson is the sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org