Pablo JuarezMercury Staff
Andrew GallegosPhoto Editor
After finishing with a second straight losing record in conference play and the first losing season since 2011, changes at the helm have been made in an effort to revitalize the softball program.
UTD’s softball program will begin the year with a new head coach. Rich Wieligman was officially appointed the new coach on Aug. 4.
The former Oklahoma State softball head coach brings with him a resume that includes three NCAA Division I tournament appearances with the Cowgirls during his nine-year tenure, including a 2011 Women’s College World Series appearance.
Athletic Director Bill Petitt explained that Wieligman’s head coaching experience and ability to recruit in the state of Texas were among the qualities that made him a formidable candidate.
“I’ve just talked to him a few times,” he said. “(He) seems very personable. I think he’ll do a good job.”
Senior outfielder Taylor Ervin believes the change in coaching reigns can catapult the softball program to the next level.
“From what I’ve read, Coach Wigs has a great background,” she said. “I have met him in person multiple times, and each time I talk with him, I like him more and more. He has a very strong personality, and I believe it’s the type of personality that will get us to the next level all the girls have wanted to reach for years.”
Ervin said there will be definite changes to the softball program.
“(Coach Wieligman) has made it very clear that he wants to grow in every aspect of the game,” she explained. “We are going to be expected to put a lot of hours in, on the field and in (the weight room).”
Location and positive feedback about the university were among the factors that played into Wieligman’s decision to come to UTD.
“I want to be in this region,” he said. “I have family here, and I didn’t really want to leave this region,” he said. “I know after studying and talking with other coaches at the (Division III) level that it’s really a great place to be.”
As he looks to get himself and his family situated, Wieligman said he’s already noticing the differences between Stillwater and Dallas.
“(In) Stillwater it was about seven cars a stoplight and that was rush hour,” he said. “Here you have seven cars plus at every stoplight, in every lane.”
Although he is transitioning from a Division I to a Division III program, Wieligman said he isn’t going to change anything as far as his coaching philosophy is concerned.
Petitt attributed the ability to recruit Division I talent to UTD’s prestige.
“I think it’s becoming more common… We have a number of people on the staff that came from a Division I (school),” Petitt said. “I think we have a lot of student-athletes here that can compete at a higher level but choose to be in Division III because of what UT Dallas offers. I think it’s probably the same for the staff.”
With the team in the off-season, Wieligman said the new strength and conditioning coach, Jami Clinton, will play an important part in the team’s success moving forward.
“We’re lucky enough that we just hired a strength and conditioning coach,” he said. “It will move our kids in the right direction — lifting weights and getting stronger and faster. Just getting them in better condition, I think that’s the biggest thing… to improve our strength and our conditioning.”
For him, coaching softball remains the same and that it’s more about being on the field than the level you’re playing at.
“(In) softball … you have to catch it, you have to throw it, and you have to hit it,” he said. “I look for us to get better in all three aspects, I expect us to pitch it better and compete for championships.”