Sarah Caffrey Brings Youth, Energy To Bucknell
From her time as a player, a longtime assistant coach and a self-proclaimed student of the game, Sarah Caffrey has consumed a ton of information throughout her softball journey. Now, as she embarks on her first season as the head coach at Bucknell University, there’s one piece of advice she's received that sticks out among the rest: just be Sarah Caffrey.
“You can’t be someone that you’re not,” Caffrey told Softball America in a phone interview. “It’s easy to look at the best of the best like the Pat Murphys, Beth Torinas, Carol Hutchins of the world. Ultimately, I’m not them and I just need to be who I am. The advice that always comes back to me is just being authentic to who you are.”
The former Jacksonville pitching standout spent time on coaching staffs at Texas Tech, Utah State and most recently Penn State since 2015. Caffrey wants to establish a culture that allows players to know that there’s love and care from her and her staff. As a former player, she knows how important that is for young women as they progress through life.
Her first staff hire resembles that. In December, Caffrey brought in Bryce Neal to be an assistant coach. Neal, who spent the 2020 season on the Arizona State staff, learned and shared hitting philosophies with Sun Devil assistant coach Jeff Harger. As much as Neal hopes to bring that knowledge and hopefully the success Arizona State saw in the box to Bucknell, there’s another lesson Neal wants to use from Harger.
“For me, the most viable piece was the relationship aspect,” Neal said. “The girls love (Harger) there. Just seeing how he interacted and how he gained trust as a (man) in a (woman's) sport. That was probably the most valuable piece of it.”
Caffrey and Neal have only been on a staff together for about a month now. Nevertheless, they spend hours daily discussing and dissecting the game that they share a passion for. Caffrey joked that at times it’s hard to get anything done because the two spend so much time talking over Zoom. Although, that’s what she wanted, someone who could match her mindset.
“What I like the most is that he has a lot of knowledge about the game and life,” Caffrey said. “He’s youngish, but he’s got a wise, old soul to me. He just gets it. He knows there’s a lot more to the sport than teaching them how to be great at softball. He’s going to bring a different type of energy.”
Neal hopes to be in Caffrey’s position one day and be handed the keys to a program further down the line in his career. He wants to be a head coach. He sees the fit with Caffrey like she does with him. Life has changed quickly for him. Before he took a position at Arizona State, Neal worked a corporate job. Last year at this time, he geared up for a convention in New Jersey. Now, he’s one step closer to his dream.
“I want to be a head coach and to have (Caffrey) mentor me, being a young head coach herself and hopefully helping me be a head coach myself one day. I’m really excited to have her for that” Neal said. “She’s young, she’s energetic, she shares the same vision that I do.”
The pair are approaching a season that has more questions than answers because of scheduling and health protocols. Each knows that, at times, the 2021 season might feel like a mess. They understand there will be challenges along the way. As Caffrey mentions, they need to appreciate the moment and the opportunity at hand.
“Whether we get five or 20 or 46 games, we need to be grateful for the opportunity to be on the field and do what we love,” Caffrey said. “We all know what it felt like to not be out there. I just want this group of young women to enjoy their experience and get to remember why they play the sport they love.”