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New softball coach has high hopes -- and winning record

By VITO CHIRCO / VN Sports Editor
On September 23, 2014

A man who has achieved success everywhere in his coaching career is coming to UDM with a vision for resurrecting the women's softball program. 

His name is John Conway, and his plan is to get the Titans in contention for a Horizon League title in his first season on the job. 

Although the former head man of the Florida-based Division II St. Leo University program may have been stricken of his youthfulness in terms of  his hair color (gray), he pulses with energy and enthusiasm. And he has a strong recent track record.

All he did at St. Leo was lead the softball program to its first-ever Sunshine State Conference championship in 2013 after posting a 40-16 overall record, which included overseeing the squad win 18 of its last 19 games as it clinched an NCAA tournament berth.

Conway also amassed over 100 wins in his four years as head coach of the Lions. 

Before his stint with the Lions, he recorded more than 100 wins coaching the St. Louis Billikens at the Division I level, reaching the triple-digit plateau the fastest in the school’s softball history. He also led the program to its inaugural Atlantic-10 conference championship game in 2010, en route to four straight A-10 championship appearances.

In fact, during Conway's four-year tenure with the Billikens, he never won fewer than 20 games. 

Leading teams in resurgences has been the name of the game for Conway in his coaching career, and the idea of building a team from the ground up, as will be his challenge with UDM, seems to light the coaching fire within him. 

The challenge of rebuilding the image of Titans softball has drawn him from the warm climate of Florida. But it's not the only thing that has drawn him to the Midwest. 

Conway and his wife felt the need to be closer to their son, who resides in Chicago, and to their two daughters, who also reside closer to Detroit, Mich., than to St. Leo, Fla.

Since making the trip up north to his new Titan home grounds, Conway has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of talent and speed on this year’s roster.

“We could hit .250, and we’ll still score runs plus drive teams crazy on the base paths,” Conway said.

Conway said the Titans’ success this season will ultimately be decided by the pitching of veterans like Kat Hoffman and Christa McGahuey, as well as freshmen Hannah Leppek and Dayton Yingling.

He said he won’t be afraid to use a three- or four-woman staff throughout the season to maximize the production of his pitchers.

While the workload is projected to be strenuous for his top starting arms, Conway believes it will be necessary for the 2014-15 Titans to perform at a high level in conference play.

After sweeping both games in a Sept. 19 exhibition against Kalamazoo Valley Community College, the Titans will be facing Jackson and Oakland community colleges in October exhibitions.

The scrimmages will give Conway a good feel for his team as it heads toward the start of regular season play in February, which opens with the Music City Classic hosted by Belmont University and Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.

The most vital part of the season, however, will come in conference play.

Conway hopes to prepare the Titans for league competition by getting the team to become better on a daily basis.

“Something I have emphasized from the beginning is to push ourselves to become one percent better every day,” Conway said. “And even though there are failures we will encounter individually and as a team, we have to keep pushing ourselves to become better.”

Conway wants to instill in his players that all of them have the talent, no matter how many mistakes they make in the field or at the plate on a given day.

“In order to fully buy into the program, these players will have to learn how to fix it, flush it and forget it,” Conway said.

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