Lotief Keeping Success In Perspective For Ragin’ Cajuns [VIDEO]
Michael Lotief's Ragin' Cajuns Softball team is off to another hot start in 2016, but his wisdom is keeping them grounded despite the success.
You don't often get two top ten teams clashing in a non-conference series to start off the season. The Cajuns got the better of Oregon, claiming two out of three games at Lamson Park to jumpstart their 2016 campaign. National polls and rankings recognize their early accomplishments, but it’s Lotief’s job to ignore the good ink.
The best coaches always find ways for their teams to improve, no matter the circumstances. Lotief is about as good as it gets in collegiate softball.
"We're not a perfect softball team...these kids are not robots,” Lotief said. “They played good in a lot of situations, a lot of spots, but we still have our flaws and we still have to get better."
He referenced the missed pop up behind second base in the first game against Oregon. It was a chance to close the inning, but their mistake led to an extra chance that the Ducks took advantage of. He pointed out several other instances, but he also doesn't want to look back on one series or particular game for the rest of the season.
One of the oldest coaching clichés is, “take it one game at a time.” In baseball and softball, the rule could shrink down even farther to “take it one inning at a time,” “one batter at a time” or even “one pitch at a time.” In such a mental game, often the key is to not defeat yourself.
“Most of the time you're not playing the opponent,” Lotief said. “The way that our game is set up, if you have the superior team, you can't just run the ball off tackle and overpower somebody. You can't just throw the ball in the paint and overpower somebody."
The Cajuns are a juggernaut, but as Lotief pointed out, you can’t put Lexie Elkins at the plate every at bat or throw your ace every game. If the Cajuns want to reach another College World Series (and they do), Lotief thinks they need a few more contributors to round out the roster. Offensively, their lineup should be able to take care of things without much trouble.
"We need to develop some depth, we need a couple kids off of the bench…but the kids I get to roll out in that lineup all have considerable experience,” Lotief said.
It doesn’t take much intuition to read between those lines. He mentioned considerable experience in the lineup, but he didn’t reference his pitchers.
Alex Stewart has more than half of the wins on the Cajun pitching staff. It’s nice to have a clear ace, but after Kylee Jo Trahan there are a lot of question marks. Victoria Brown throws a vicious heater, but can you count on her for consistent innings in the middle of tournament play? There are a lot of other talented arms on the staff like Macey Smith and Alison Deville, but they haven’t been seriously tested early in their careers.
Growth is a frustrating process for fans to observe. You wouldn’t shout at a sunflower for not blooming yet, but a players are asked to blossom the minute they step on campus.
"Developing pitchers is not something that happens overnight. It's a process. Some kids get it quicker than others,” Lotief pointed out.
Even when it comes to his starting pitchers, he’s not demanding perfect performances in the circle. Their offensive arsenal provides some breathing room for the start of the season, and it’s the pitching staff’s job to lock down their side in the circle in time to make a run in postseason play.
Part of developing talent is not overwhelming or suffocating it with pressure. Players can’t choke if they’re not asked to bite off more than you can chew.
“We're not going out there and asking them to strike out ten, twelve, fifteen players a game,” Lotief said.
Wisdom is acquired over years of experience. Lotief always shares a sliver of his sage advice during his weekly press conferences (video above), but his players listen to it every day. They know to follow his plan and to not question the course.
The goal is the same for this team every season: reach the College World Series. Lotief’s goal for now is to keep his team humble and focused while everybody else pats their backs.