Program head brings nine years of experience at Division I school
After a lackluster season that saw the softball team miss out on the ASC tournament, the Comets are looking to bounce back under the direction of a new head coach.
Following a 16-19 season, Brad Posner, who had coached the team since 2012, left the program. In his place is now Rich Wieligman, who spent the past nine years as the head softball coach at Oklahoma State University — a Division I university.
While at OSU, Wieligman led the Cowgirls to three NCAA tournament appearances and a trip to the 2011 Women’s College World Series.
For Wieligman, the decision to come to UTD was influenced by his family.
“I was looking for a position and I have a daughter in this area, and with this job opening up, I was definitely interested in staying,” he said. “This was a great opportunity for me to continue coaching and staying close to my family.”
Although Wieligman has been coaching for 20 years, he said there are still challenges in adjusting to the move to a Division III school like UTD — the biggest ones being the lack of athletes on scholarship and a more flexible schedule for the players. Still, he expressed an eagerness to face the task.
“I think it’s enjoyable because these kids want to play softball, so they’re bought in out here,” he said. “They want to play and get a great education. Sometimes the difference is the priority (of) school more than softball, which I get. It gives the student-athlete a lot better college experience from that standpoint versus a Division I program.”
Even though it is still early in his career at UTD, Wieligman is focused on bringing about changes in the program. One of these is utilizing Jami Clinton, UTD’s strength and conditioning coach, to help the players become stronger during the season.
He’s also emphasizing the use of players’ quickness to help them score more runs.
“We’ve got some good speed,” he said. “I think that’s one thing that we have I’m hoping to take advantage of. If we can get them on first, we’ll be able to steal some bases and be able to use that speed … I think the thing that sticks out with our team is we’ve got some pretty fast kids.”
Along with these changes, players on the team said Wieligman has created more of a foundation for the Comets than has existed in past years. Senior outfielder Taylor Ervin — who hit .315 last year, was 7-for-7 on stolen bases and was listed as an ASC Preseason Player to Watch — said there were problems from the bottom to the top of the program last year. She said there is a better structure this year.
“We always have a plan and we’re always following something that he says to do,” she said. “He just knows the game really well, which is a huge difference.”
Freshman outfielder Melissa Livermore, who was recruited by Posner, said even though she is new, she has seen the changes as well.
“Just from what I’ve heard about seasons in the past compared to now, I would say — even though I didn’t know personally — I would say it’s a night and day difference,” she said. “All the girls are completely bought in 100 percent to do what’s best for the team.”
Heading into the season, the Comets have been tabbed to finish seventh in the ASC. In their first two games of the season on Jan. 30, they lost 1-3 and 1-2 to Texas Lutheran.
Even though the games ended in the losing column, Ervin said the team played much better than in season openers of years past.
“Usually the beginning of the season, our first games don’t go very well and these games were completely different,” she said. “Our team was different. On the field, hitting, just the mentality — everybody’s mentalities completely changed, which is an awesome change.”
With the rest of the season in front of the team, UTD will have to be on the lookout for UT Tyler and ETBU, who had the best records in the league last year and have been picked to finish first and second, respectively, in the ASC. Last year, the Comets went 0-6 combined against these two squads.
Ervin said this year the team is looking to turn that around.
“In the past, it hasn’t been pretty, but I think the games are going to be really close and they could go either way,” she said. “I think (they’re) going to be good competition (games).”
Despite the shadows of past losses and changes looming over the program, Wieligman expressed a desire for success the upcoming season.
“I want us to win,” he said. “I go into every year expecting to win and expecting them to get better. I think the big key is where do we start and where do we finish? Do we continue to improve and get better? And that’s the thing that I want to see — for us to keep getting better and better.”
For the players on the team, the goal is to find a way back into the win column and to earn a trip to the post-season. For Ervin, the adjustments Wieligman has brought have already made those goals attainable.
“It’s a complete 100 percent change and it’s probably the best change that could have happened to the program,” she said.