When COVID-19 forced the cancellation of Mid-American Conference spring sports last March, senior pitcher Alyssa Rothwell said she couldn’t hold back tears.
Posting a 7-5 record with a 1.79 ERA through 14 appearances in 2020, Rothwell said she never expected to step on the field again after Ball State Softball’s 2020 regular season abruptly came to a close. That was until Rothwell and four of her teammates were granted an extra year of eligibility this offseason due to the pandemic.
“I had to make sure I was staying on top of my training this summer,” Rothwell said. “We weren’t allowed on our field, and gyms weren’t open, but I just had to keep training and stick to how my body was during the season.”
Gaining an extra year of eligibility wasn’t the only significant news Rothwell and her teammates faced this past summer. After former head coach Megan Ciolli Bartlett accepted a position as an assistant coach June 26 at Texas, the Cardinals were left without a head coach for nearly two months. That changed Aug. 24 when Ball State announced the hiring of Lacy Wood as the 10th head coach in program history.
Having spent the last five seasons on the coaching staff at Harvard University, the Louisville, Kentucky, native said it was an easy choice on deciding to come to Ball State.
“Ball State stands for strong academics and strong athletics,” Wood said. “That in itself draws your attention when a potential job opens up. Being around family and friends consistently is definitely a plus.”
Heading into 2021, the Cardinals welcome back seven seniors and three graduate students. Working with second-year assistant coach Jeremy Manley, Wood said Ball State’s veteran presence boosts her confidence.
“They’ve been around a little bit longer, so they know the ropes,” Wood said. “My job is to help give them more tools in their toolbox. It does feel good that they’re going to help take care of the younger girls on the team and help balance everything here at Ball State.”
Rothwell praised Wood’s work ethic and organization.
“You can tell that she’s very down to business, which I love,” Rothwell said. “She’s so organized, knows what she wants to do, and I can’t imagine how hard it is for her to come in and be a new head coach at a school during a pandemic. I think that’s insanely hard, but she’s been great.”
While a coaching change can bring challenges, it often has its benefits. That was the case for graduate student outfielder Haley Dominique, who was recruited by former head coach Tyra Perry. Prior to Bartlett’s tenure from 2016-20, Perry spent two seasons as head coach of the Cardinals.
“There’s always that period of getting to know each player, and I think that’s going to take some time and effort,” Dominique said. “A few of us have been through [a coaching change] before, so we were able to talk through and help our teammates if they needed anything. It was hard, but the show must go on.”
Immediately after Wood received the job, she arranged a team-wide Zoom meeting and individual phone calls with each player, which Dominique said were extremely beneficial.
“She’s really on top of things,” Dominique said. “I think that’s really important, especially with not getting on the field right now. She’s very organized, and communication is her top priority, so that’s good.”
Prior to graduating in 2007, Wood played catcher for Louisville, leading the Cardinals to their first-ever NCAA regional appearance in 2004. She was later inducted into Louisville’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2019.
When reflecting on her experience with Harvard, Wood emphasized the importance of balancing athletics with academics — something she didn’t completely realize was possible during her playing career.
“Working at an institution like Harvard, your eyes are kind of open to seeing the level at which both young women and young men can manage both sides and still compete at a high level,” Wood said. “They’re competing in the classroom, they’re competing for internships and they’re competing on the softball field as well. I think that was probably the biggest lesson I learned and something I’ll take with me everywhere I go.”
Although the Cardinals are not scheduled to compete until next winter, Ball State has begun practicing on a weekly basis. Players are currently participating in small-group workouts as well as strength and conditioning sessions.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the state of MAC competition moving forward, Wood said she is confident her athletes will continue to grow and lead in their respective styles.
“I’m a firm believer that not all leaders need to lead from the front,” Wood said. “I think my role is to put the athletes in a position where they can all lead for themselves.”