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To build a winning softball team: The road ahead for Coach Laura Matthews

Resilience should be Laura Matthews’ middle name, given that she aims to rebuild Belmont’s softball program after a long journey home to Nashville.

“Belmont is a tremendous school, with an athletic department whose mission aligns closely with my values,” wrote Matthews. “The opportunity to come home to Nashville was another aspect that was a huge draw for me.”

Matthews takes over as head coach for a team that was reeling before her arrival. Before competition was canceled because of COVID-19, the Bruins held a record of 5-14.

Her entry indicates a change in the direction of the program, but the goal is still to build a perennial winner — something Matthews knows all too well.

Before Belmont, Matthews coached at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. There, she amassed two back-to-back 20-win seasons, rebuilding the program from the ground up. During her tenure, she coached nine All-Horizon League selections, which included the 2018 Horizon League Pitcher of the Year Ashley Sharp.

But her time at Wright State ended dramatically. On the cusp of another successful season, the year was cut short due to COVID-19. Once the season ended, Wright State dropped softball entirely — forcing Matthews out of a job before her team reached its potential.

“I felt like we were on the cusp of being the program we wanted to be. We had established a strong culture and had brought in some tremendous players. To have that taken from us was very difficult to deal with,” wrote Matthews.

The sudden cancellation of softball at Wright state deeply affected her.

“It had a huge effect on me. It shocked everyone who was affiliated with the softball program and upended the lives of my assistant coaches, players, and me,” wrote Matthews. “We had to go through the grieving process and find new homes for each person who was part of our program.”

It was during this period of unknown that Matthews held on to the idea that things happen for a reason, she wrote.

And from her position now, she can look back on these events with a better perspective and understanding.

“Everything happens for a reason, and it led me here to Belmont. I hope everyone affiliated with the Wright State program can look back on the experience as a time of growth that set us on a great path for our lives,” wrote Matthews.

Resilience is how Matthews made it home to Nashville and Belmont, and that’s no accident. Choosing to move forward, no matter how difficult it might seem, is something Matthews consciously strives for.

“In life, you just have to keep going. We often have little control over things, but we can always control our response. I will always strive to be positive and make the most of every situation and opportunity,” wrote Matthews.

And it’s this mentality she takes into coaching. It helped her rebuild Wright State’s softball program; with Belmont, she hopes to do the same.

“I would like our program to be one of the top programs in the OVC and in contention for OVC championships each year,” wrote Matthews.

Her past challenges in coaching have taught her intrinsic values that directly correlate with designing a winning team. Things like player development, curating culture and building team continuity all help to create a winning atmosphere, she writes.

These channels allow her coaching philosophy to take hold.

“My coaching philosophy is to build relationships with each player and work to help them to maximize their talents on and off the field,” writes Matthews.”I want us to care about each other as people and be grateful for the opportunity to wear ‘Belmont’ across our chests.”

Creating a family is the way coach Matthews described it. And the players involved are looking forward to not only playing for her, but learning from her.

Alicia Veltri, a senior on Belmont’s Softball team spoke highly of garnering more understanding of the game from a different viewpoint, in her last year of eligibility.

“I look forward to getting a new perspective on the game from our new coach. Some of us seniors are on our fourth coach, so I really just look forward to seeing the game through another’s eyes,” wrote Veltri.

Senior Elison Ollinger echoed similar sentiments.

“I am most looking forward to seeing what coach Matthews has to offer. I’m hoping she will bring some new insight to the game while helping us grow on and off the field,” she wrote.

The dynamic change in culture is exactly what Ollinger is looking forward to.

“Coach Matthews will help us establish a new culture for the program; one of respect and unity, while establishing an environment where we can work hard and push ourselves to be our best,” wrote Ollinger.

Matthews’ fit with the team isn’t a question, said Veltri. Belmonts softball teams are known for being one big family. And many of Matthews’ coaching ideologies fit the team’s personality.

Students like Veltri and Ollinger are confident in Matthews’ ability to extract the most out of the players on the team. And those eager to get on the field said she is the right one for that job.

“There is room for growth in leadership and aggressiveness,” said Veltri. “Our team needs to be pushed really hard, and I believe coach Matthews is the one for that job.”

All that’s left for both Matthews and the players is to get out on the field and compete.

“I can’t wait to get back on the field and get to know our players as people and athletes.”

This article written by Ian Kayanja.

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