By David Cohn
It has been a whirlwind of a last couple of months for new softball head coach Rachel Hanson — with a new job, a move to the West Coast and recruiting for her new program, the Stanford Cardinal. However, in spite of all of her responsibilities, Hanson has been able to manage it all with a plan and a vision for Stanford softball in the immediate and long-term future. From talking with Hanson, it is evident that the program is in the capable hands of a coach who has been a success at each stage of her coaching career.
In particular, Hanson built Dartmouth and the University of Dallas, two programs that had previously lacked a history of consistent success, into conference contenders. Most recently, Hanson was able to lead the Big Green to its best finishes in Ivy League conference play in her last two seasons in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Under Hanson’s guidance, Dartmouth made two consecutive appearances in the Ivy League Championship Series after winning two consecutive Ivy League North Division titles. While the Big Green fell in 2013 to Pennsylvania in the Championship Series, Hanson and Dartmouth were able to knock off the Quakers in the 2014 rematch to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
Now, as the third coach in Stanford softball program history, Hanson is excited for the opportunity to lead the Cardinal.
In describing her initial reaction when she learned that she would be Stanford softball’s next head coach, Hanson stated, “For me, it was very exciting to know that I was stepping into a program that has seen a lot of success, and into an athletic department that has such a reputation for excellence.
“To know that I can walk down the hall and talk to championship-level coaches every day, and that our players are around championship-level programs every day, that is very exciting to me to know that we are one of many here that are pushing the bar toward that level of excellence.”
In talking about her approach to program-building and establishing a standard of excellence, Hanson frequently cited her “process” as an important key to achieving the goals that she has set out for the softball program.
“You will hear it every time we talk about what our intentions are: We are going to be very committed to the process,” Hanson said. “We are not going to get caught up with our end goal for this year. Right now, it is about doing the little things the right way. Let’s build championship behaviors on a daily basis. There is a lot of that already in place. We just want to build on that, and build toward a process of playing like a champion every day.”
In elaborating further on this process, Hanson added, “We are very excited about the plans and the process that we are committed to. Every step we take is intentional. That doesn’t mean that we won’t make wrong steps at times, but as with the players, it is all about the process. We are going to learn from each one of those, and continue to execute this plan and vision that we have for Stanford softball. I have no doubt that we will build the type of program that we want to be.”
To that end, Hanson’s process is inherently linked with her staff; she announced last Thursday that Dorian Shaw, a former All-American softball player at the University of Michigan and National Fastpitch (NPF) professional athlete, would be joining her staff. Shaw has also previously coached under Hanson as an assistant at Dartmouth.
“Coach Shaw is a dynamite coach,” said Hanson about Shaw. “I am very excited to bring her with me…She obviously has a playing background at a program of excellence under coach Hutchins, and did quite well on a big stage.
“I think one thing that our student-athletes are really going to love about [Shaw] is her ability to build relationships, and really draw the best out of the players that she works with. She cares about them, as does the whole coaching staff. She really invests in them on and off the field. To me, that is where you see the most growth is when players see that they are not just a cog in the machine, but that we really care about them, and we are really invested in their growth.”
Subsequently, on Monday, Hanson completed her staff with the announcement that Megan Langenfeld, a three-time All-American and UCLA legend, would be joining her on the Farm after serving as a graduate assistant at Arkansas.
In a statement to GoStanford.com, Hanson stated that “Megan brings Pac-12 and national championship experience, a great hard work mentality and a relentless competitive spirit. She’ll provide an energy to our team and will quickly strengthen our pitching staff.”
The last few months have certainly not been the easiest stretch in the history of the Stanford softball program. Longtime head coach John Rittman, who helped establish the Cardinal as a perennial Pac-12 contender, resigned after 18 years on June 2. The Cardinal also suffered through a difficult season in 2014, as the Card could not overcome the losses of Carley Hoover and Nyree White in the circle; Stanford finished 5-19 in conference play this past season while missing the postseason for the first time in over a decade.
When asked to offer a message to Stanford softball fans regarding the difficult times of the last few months, Hanson stated, “I think what we are excited about is there is obviously a rich tradition in the athletic department as a whole, and in the softball program. For us, we don’t take that lightly. We are excited to get to know the alumni who have built that tradition of success, a tradition that coach Rittman and his assistants have built previously.
“We are also excited to build on that legacy, both with the current and future players. I don’t think we have seen the best of Stanford softball yet. There have been some great years; we are excited to build on those and continue to move forward. I really look forward to getting to know our fans, to have them be a part of our process, and have them be a part of Stanford softball in some really fun and new ways.”
One alumna who has been outspoken in her support of Hanson is four-time All-American and Stanford softball legend Jessica Mendoza, who wrote a statement to GoStanford.com about Hanson’s hire.
“Rachel is a great fit because she knows how to work with the student-athlete and relate to the uniqueness of the Stanford student-athlete,” Mendoza wrote. “She’s able to bring out the best of the players and represent the university in the best way possible. The great thing about Stanford is that it’s ‘student’ before ‘athlete’ and Rachel gets that.”
“Jessica is someone that has been phenomenal throughout the process,” said Hanson about her relationship with Mendoza. “She is excited to make sure that Stanford softball continues to head in the right direction. You will see a lot of Jessica Mendoza in the coming years, I am sure.”
In talking about her team for this coming year, Hanson highlighted her offense as a potential strength for her 2015 squad.
“[Offense] is a big area of strength for this team. We will build on that; we won’t make any huge changes,” Hanson said. “We will probably add some pieces to their bucket, whether it is approach, or tweaking little things when we face different pitchers. By and large, we are going to let them do what they are already doing well. For me, that is a really exciting aspect of this coming year.”
However, in spite of the offensive explosion that was seen on the Farm, and throughout college softball in 2014, Hanson stressed the importance of a strong pitching rotation: “At the end of the day, this is still a pitcher-dominated sport. Even with the run totals increasing, it is going to come down to whether your pitching can limit those at-bats.
“We see some areas where I think we can grow and improve. Obviously, Madi Schreyer did a heck of a job last year with having to shoulder so many of the innings. I think that with having one other [freshman] pitcher come in now, we will see some release [of the pressure on Schreyer]. I am very excited that we will have a staff in the coming years that we can build on.”
In putting together that pitching staff and executing her vision for the rotation, Hanson is looking forward to working with her team.
“We want to wait and see what we have. We want to see these women in practice, see them compete, and see what our pitching looks like before we put together a specific, detailed plan,” Hanson said. “But I will tell you that we are looking forward to putting that plan together, and I know that we will have talent, and some some options, in terms of how we do that.”
Hanson cited numerous times the importance of building relationships, particularly with her players, Stanford softball alumni and with the fans of the program. At this critical moment for the program, this important quality will help Hanson establish a successful program on and off the field.
At this time, Stanford softball needs someone who leads by example through her actions. As important as coaching the softball fundamentals will be, Hanson’s ability to bring people together might be even more important at this juncture. From talking with her, there is no doubt that Hanson will be able to do all of these things.
In addition, Hanson understands the rich history associated with the Stanford softball program — a history that was created under Rittman’s leadership. The WCWS berths, the NCAA regional titles, the streak of consecutive postseason appearances and the hundreds of wins are all a part of the indelible mark that Rittman and his staff left on that history.
Nevertheless, Hanson is ready to add her own chapter to the program’s history. With her “process,” Hanson is fully capable of leaving her own mark on the Farm, and raise the Stanford softball program to even greater heights moving forward.
Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.