UC softball: Team hopes to build on 2012 success
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state of Arkansas has been a hot bed for the athletic department at the University of Charleston lately.
Not for players, but instead, coaches.
First UC hired Mark Downey away from Arkansas Tech to be its men's basketball coach three years ago. The Golden Eagles liked the hire so much that they went back right back to the same school one year later and brought in another Golden Suns coach.
This time it was for softball, where UC brought in former Arkansas Tech assistant coach Ray Loeser to be the new lead man for the Golden Eagles.
The two have proved to be excellent hires as last season Downey led UC to an NCAA Tournament berth, while Loeser guided the Golden Eagles to a 22-4 record and second-place finish in the West Virginia Conference in his first season.
"A couple of our friends have called us the Arkansas Tech of the East," Loeser said. "This business is a lot about who you know.
"Who would have thought some five years ago that walking into the head coach's office and having a conversation would turn into a job opportunity, and here I am. I have hired my assistant from Arkansas Tech."
UC was predicted to finish third in the WVC preseason poll, behind West Virginia Wesleyan and West Virginia State.
"Everybody's goals and aspirations are different, but obviously you want to win every game you play, win conference championships and compete for regional and national championships," Loeser said.
"Last year, we were one play away from winning a conference championship. You always expect to win a league when you are 22-4. Ironically, there were three teams that had the same record. Do we have another team that can make a run at 22-4? I believe it."
Loeser is proud of last year's accomplishments, especially in his first year as a head coach, but isn't satisfied.
"Being 22-4 was something no one expected," Loeser said. "It was nice to have some success. Half of me wants to say great job but the other half wants to say good job but we have a job to do now and again and again."
UC senior first baseman Janeen Vazquez leads the Golden Eagles. Vazquez, who also plays in the outfield, was a all-West Virginia Conference first-team selection last season after batting a league-leading .455 last year.
"It's big to return someone who every day, you can anticipate every bat, is going to get a hit," Loeser said. "She truly could play at the next level. We are glad to have her. Offensively, she is a leader and her teammates respond off of her success."
Loeser also welcomes back sophomore Aspen Echelmeier, who is coming off a big year in her freshman season. The catcher hit .300 with seven home runs and 38 RBI.
"Aspen led the team in home runs last year," Loeser said. "She has a lot of power. We envision her to be able to do the same thing. The power is still there. Teams are going to have to pick their poison between her and Janeen."