By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The challenge before Windy Thees is clear, but getting from Point A to Point B will be no easy ride.
Thees is tasked with making the Ole Miss softball program competitive within the SEC, something its not been in its 14-year existence.
Inside and outside the conference the Rebels have an all-time win percentage of .396 in 861 games.
Associate AD John Hartwell, who conducted the search that led to Thees’ hiring last week, said the school is committing more to softball financially. Thees will make $110,000 a year.
The exposure the sport receives through the conference’s TV contract with ESPN has spurred its growth in popularity, and the university benefits from the exposure, Hartwell said.
“We are committing more financially, but that’s not unique to Ole Miss,” Hartwell said. “In terms of women’s athletics, softball has become a more high profile sport. Because of that, we’ve put additional resources into it.”
The SEC had two teams in the Women’s College World Series this season, seven in the final RPI top 30, three in the top 10.
Florida lost to Arizona State in the championship series.
Seven of the 11 SEC teams who play the sport – Vanderbilt does not – won at least 40 games this season.
Thees was highly successful at Division II Georgia College, then launched the Memphis program and built the Tigers into an NCAA tournament team.
Memphis was 36-14 this season, earning its first NCAA bid and finishing fourth in Conference USA, the highest finish in the six-year history of the program.
“This program and the university have so much to offer. With the first-class facilities and the support from the administration, we have a chance to have a great softball program,” Thees said.
The Rebels finished 14-39 this season, 3-23 in the SEC and out of contention early on for the league tournament which was played at Ole Miss.
The Rebels have had just two winning seasons in their history, never inside the league where their best finish was 11-17 five years ago.
For the life of the program Ole Miss is 341-520 overall, 119-295.
“Since I don’t know the personnel on this team the biggest challenge will be looking at each kid and finding how I can maximize their athletic ability,” Thees said.
Thees said she will emphasize pitching, defense and speed in working to build the program – especially pitching.
“There’s a reason they draw a circle around it. It’s the most important position on the field,” she said.
Thees went 184-154 at Memphis. The Tigers qualified for the conference tournament in each of the last five years.
She envisions similar success at Ole Miss.
“We’ll win the games we’re supposed to win, sneak some wins from people who may have a little more talent than us and find ways to exploit peoples’ weaknesses,” Thees said.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600