Coach Mike White Ushers In A New Era of Texas Softball
In 2012, Mike White was in his third season as Oregon’s coach when the Ducks traveled to Austin for a Super Regional matchup against Texas. The Ducks hadn’t been to the Women’s College World Series since 1989 and the Longhorns were coming off trips in 2003, '05 and '06.
Down one game to none, the Ducks won Game 2 in extra innings and then took down the home team in Game 3 to advance to the WCWS. White then led Oregon to Pac-12 Conference championships in five of the next six seasons and trips to Oklahoma City in 2014, '15, '17 and '18. Texas reached the WCWS just once during that time.
In an effort to return for the first time in 16 years, the Longhorns have turned to a flock of former Ducks to lead them back to the promised land. The leader of that group was White, who on June 25 was named just the second head coach in Texas’ history.
When he left Oregon, White brought four of the Ducks’ best players along with him, including pitcher Miranda Elish, utility player Lauren Burke, catcher Mary Iakopo and outfielder Shannon Rhodes. Elish earned first-team all-conference honors in her final year in the Pac-12, while Iakopo placed on the second team.
“It was a big move having been in Oregon for 15-plus years,” White said. “Leaving friends behind and two of my daughters are still there . . . There’s always pluses and minuses, but I’ve always believed life is what you make of it. I’m here now, committed and looking forward to the journey. There are some great things that can really happen here.”
White inherited a team that underperformed offensively in 2018 and finished 33-26 for the second consecutive season. The team batting average (.268) was sixth of seven in the Big 12 and Janae Jefferson was the only offensive production in the top 10. The Longhorns finished fourth in the conference with a 10-8 record.
The new era of Texas softball begins on Feb. 8 at 4:30 p.m. CST at Red & Charline McCombs Field against Northwestern State as a part of the annual Texas Classic.
Rhodes, Iakopo and Burke, who combined for 22 home runs and 96 RBIs in 2018, will go a long way toward boosting those numbers this season. In comparison, Texas combined as a team for 25 home runs and 187 RBIs.
“One step at a time,” White said about bettering the team. “We have to play better softball. Our team batting average wasn’t what it needs to be and (we didn’t show) a whole lot of power . . . That’s really what our focus is: making sure we’re more selective at the plate, we didn’t have enough walks. Our on-base percentage wasn’t high enough. There just wasn’t enough offensive production.
The Longhorns will also get help from sophomore standout Janae Jefferson, who hit .392/.463/.460 in her freshman season and ranks No. 17 on Softball America’s initial Top 100.
“She’s what I call a street-smart player,” White said. “You don’t have to tell her twice about the nuances of the game. She’s got a gift.”
Elish, who ranks No. 13 on SA’s Top 100, plus freshman Shaelyn O’Leary, should help Texas improve in the circle as well.
“We’ve got someone who throws almost 70 miles an hour in Miranda and (senior) Brooke (Bolinger) from the left who spins it in around the low 60’s,” White said. “That’s quite the transition. O’Leary is throwing hard drop balls with a good double break on it with a nice changeup.
“I think having Miranda is a breath of fresh air to the pitching staff in that she’s been there (WCWS), she’s done it and she has the enthusiasm and desire to be one of the best pitchers in the country.”
The talent infusion has helped Texas earn the No. 9 spot in SA’s first Top 25 ranking. With that spot comes serious expectations.
“I feel like a lot of people are expecting a lot out of us this year especially with coach White coming in,” Bolinger said. “So I feel like the vibe is that we’re going to kick some a--. That’s just what our thing is this year. We’re just going to come out and show people what we’re made of.”
White believes his team’s ability to play free and relaxed will help them rise above any outside pressure.
“I think that’s why we have an advantage,” Elish said. “We are going to be playing so freely. If we put pressure on ourselves then we can’t play (that way). If there is any pressure, we just need to brush it away because there’s no point in playing with pressure on you. We have to expect the best of ourselves and not worry about what others are thinking.”