Harvard Grad Laura Ricciardone Ready To Chase Title At Yale
When the Yale Bulldogs take the field on Feb. 24, first-year head coach Laura Ricciardone will start the next chapter in an anything-but-traditional journey.
Ricciardone, originally from Louisiana, would attend a university uncommon for kids from her area. And that university, Harvard, is not particularly known for producing Division I softball coaches. Now, she’s running the program that’s rivals with her alma mater.
The former All–Ivy League First-Team selection played softball, volleyball and basketball growing up, but softball was always her favorite sport.
“With each different season and each different sport that I (tried) out, softball always was at the forefront,” Ricciardone reflected.
As a student-athlete at Pope John Paul II, Ricciardone excelled both in athletics and academics. She was named the All–St. Tammany Parish Pitcher of the Year three times and also won two non-athletic awards, the St. Michael’s Book Award and the Pope John Paul II Citizenship Award. What made the experience even more special was the opportunity to play for her father.
“My dad was the coach for my sophomore, junior and senior years,” Ricciardone remembered. “So it was really cool to get to have so much success with him, too, and it was really cool to get to win with him for honestly the first time for that program,” she added.
When it came time to decide where she wanted to play in college, the former class president decided to attend Harvard.
“If you'd asked me when I was a little kid if I was going to go to Harvard and play softball, I would have looked at you with a blank stare and said, ‘no way can I make that happen and get to that point,’” Ricciardone said. “But I'm super lucky to have had the opportunity to go there and play there under Jenny Allard.”
She would succeed on the Cambridge campus. Studying psychology and dominating in the circle for the Crimson, Ricciardone was a key member of the 2011 and 2012 Ivy League championship–winning teams.
“I think we had all the right pieces of the puzzle on the field, in terms of talent and positions and depth,” she said of her Crimson teams. “The program had come close a lot of times building up to that. When a team has a successful run, people sort of see what happened in 2012 or in that year, but in reality, it's what happened in 2010 and 2011 and building up to it and the development of players across the years.”
After graduating from Harvard, Ricciardone went over to Boston University. Her assistant coach from her playing days, Ashley Waters, was the new head coach of the Terriers. In her one season coaching on Ashford Street, she worked closely with pitcher Melanie Russell, who would go on to win the Patriot League Pitcher of the Year award.
Ricciardone believes that her short time spent at BU will be beneficial in her attempt to turn the Yale program around.
“I think it gave me a very helpful glimpse into what it meant to turn the program around,” she said. “To be able to quickly establish a standard and what that looks like to be carried out on a daily basis on the field in practice, but also in team meetings or player meetings and keeping those relationships with personnel.”
During her time at BU, she also coached Alex Heinen, who is now on her staff at Yale.
After one season on Ashley Waters’ staff, Ricciardone decided she needed to gain experience outside of the northeast. So, she joined Ken Eriksen’s staff at the University of South Florida.
“I knew, in the end, where I wanted to be and where I wanted to come back to, but I knew to be a better coach and a better leader of a program, I needed to see a different side of the game,” she said. “I needed to learn more and expand my own horizons, and I am eternally grateful to Ken Eriksen for giving me a shot.”
After spending three years coaching the Bulls in the American Athletic Conference, Ricciardone came back to the Ivy League in 2019, but this time, as an assistant for her alma mater’s rival.
It was Yale athletic director Vicky Chun and the culture she’s building in New Haven that attracted Ricciardone to Yale.
“She's an incredible human, and you won't find a more dynamic and just supportive person,” she said of Chun. “So it was really clear the culture she was building here.”
Last May, Ricciardone was promoted to head coach of Yale’s softball program. She has a tough task in front of her to build a winning culture with a program that hasn’t won a conference title in nearly three decades.
“This is year one for me here at Yale, and we haven't won an Ivy League championship since 1993,” Ricciardone said. “I think we've got a really cool opportunity ahead of us to build towards that. That's our end goal.”