Collegiate athletes are lucky to be remembered through honorary mentions or record-breaking seasons. Upon graduation, most athletes leave their respective colleges and reflect on their team members and coaching staff fondly, but rarely do these players get to again be a part of sports at their alma mater.
That precise opportunity was presented to SF State alumnus Ernie Munoz, who was hired as the most recent softball coach. Munoz played two seasons of Gator baseball in 2007 and 2008 after transferring from Chaffey College.
“I think that bringing home a Gator is always kind of nice, he was a senior my first year here,” said head coach Cristina Byrne. “I got a chance to know him a little bit as player and I really respect him as a person.”
As a senior, Munoz recorded a team high of 22 runs and led the team with 10 stolen bases. After graduation Munoz volunteered on the baseball team and further expanded his coaching experience by giving private lessons in the East Bay for two years, primarily working with catchers and hitters. He returned to Gator sports this year as a first-time coach.
“My expectation is that he makes us better. I think he has a great energy with the girls,” Byrne said. “He gets really excited about being out here and he brings that level of excitement and energy that we need.”
Munoz comes to the SF State coaching staff looking to blend his experience and knowledge to an already dedicated and athletic team. He plans to focus on hitting and improving the team’s batting average.
“We have a solid group, we have a lot of young talent,” said Munoz. “The expectation is whatever they want it to be, we have the talent to do some good things and it’s going to be up to however the girls want to play it.”
A fresh face on the diamond could throw a monkey wrench into team chemistry, but Munoz has tried to make the transition smooth for both players and coaches. Munoz’s arrival to the coaching staff comes at an impeccable time for the team.
Byrne had surgery just two months prior to the season opener due to a torn labrum (shoulder) and hasn’t been able to fully participate in practice.
“It’s been a great stress relief for me, especially physically since I haven’t physically been able to do a whole lot,” Byrne said. “I’m not allowed to hit balls and throw balls, so his timing to come join us has been perfect.”
With three coaches on deck, there are various viewpoints and ideas thrown at players, which may be difficult at times. Fellow assistant coach Tara Tembey thinks this will be a great learning experience for the team.
“Every athlete is individualized on how they react to coaches, or to how coaches motivate, or what coaches say,” Tembey said. “With three coaches, you have things coming at you in three different aspects and some of the girls can really learn from it.”
“He explains things…it’s just nice that it’s not always coming from myself or coach Tembey,” Byrne said, echoing Tembey’s confidence in the new hired coach. “Now he’s the new voice and the girls really take to that.”
With the 2012 season underway there are high expectations and each coach is confident in the ability of the team to come out strong.
“I think the girls are ready to play; they’re ready to get loose and attack some kids and attack some other teams,” Tembey said.
Munoz believes that preparation will be the key for the team, both for the players and for coaches. Although he is new to the team, he is already adapting to the determination shared by both players and coaches.
“As a coach our responsibilities are to make sure they are prepared, day in and day out to play in the games,” Munoz said.
The softball team came out strong in their first game, grabbing a last-minute win against Cal State Stanislaus. The next game is Saturday, Feb. 10 at Cal State East Bay where the Gators hope to continue a winning streak.
Sophomore catcher Kylie Grabowski believes the last-place ranking the Gators received last year will only fuel the players in this upcoming season. With the additional coach and eagerness to win, the women’s softball team is ready to take on the season.
“I think it’s just going to be a huge underdog story this year,” said Grabowski. “We have five games this weekend and we plan on going and winning every one of them. We’re going to go out there and put the best nine (innings) on the field and play to our abilities and put up a good fight.”
Grabowski said the addition of Munoz to the coaching staff is a great addition that will help the team be more successful this season.
“He comes out and volunteers all the time,” she said. “He’s out here in the morning, he’s out here in the afternoon and he always gives us great tips. he’s a really good coach.”