No coach in HBU history has had more milestones than Mary-Ellen Hall, who completed her 28th season at the helm of the Huskies’ softball program in May, and is the all-time winningest coach in any sport at the school. On April 18, HBU swept University of the Incarnate Word in a doubleheader, coming from behind in game one for an 8-6 win, then pulling out a 1-0 victory in game two for Hall’s 800th career victory.
“I think with this milestone, it was not the 800th win that was important. It was coming off last season, having four starters out and not having a good season, hoping and knowing we were better, but we still had to get it done on the field,” Hall said. “It just happened this year that we were able to achieve double the wins. It’s a testament to (Assistant Coaches) Roger (Willhite) and Natali (Duron) and all the players who have been here, but even more so, it’s a testament to HBU that they’ve had that belief in me and stood by me all this time.”
The Huskies finished 23-23 overall, more than doubling their win total after a 9-34 finish in 2018, and 10 Southland Conference wins, their most in five years. HBU finished at .500 for the first time since the Great West Conference Championship season of 2011.
“This team truly knew it was better than the year before,” Hall said. “We lost nine games by one run, so they knew they were close, but they need to focus a little bit more and work a little bit harder.”
Two of the team’s top three hitters were seniors, with shortstop Demi Janak leading the team with a .301 batting average, six home runs, 14 doubles and 20 RBIs; and first baseman Brooke Bushman hitting .273 with two home runs, seven doubles and 13 RBIs. The lineup was bolstered by a talented group of freshmen starters in designated hitter Caitlyn Brockway, third baseman Autumn Sydlik and outfielder Riley Bullen.
Hall credits the chemistry between the upperclassmen and underclassmen for the team’s turnaround.
“They were a fun group to be around — they came out every day to practice. They weren’t in bad moods, they worked hard, and if anyone saw Senior Day, they really understood how much they pulled for each other,” Hall said. “Our seniors and upperclassmen were really welcoming to the freshmen and they knew they were going to be able to help us, and that made it easier. The fall gave us a glimpse of what the team could be, and the team really opened their arms to them.”
This season certainly reenergized the coaching staff; adding what Hall believes is a strong recruiting class to an experienced group coming back bodes well for the future of the program.
“Even though we didn’t make the conference tournament, we won a lot of big midweek games, and I think that is going to carry over to next year,” Hall said. “We just need more consistency on the weekends. Very few teams win the last game they play (which HBU did by sweeping Abilene Christian), and while they were excited about the summer, they wanted to keep playing.”