2016 NFCA Assistant Coach of The Year recipients announced
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Roger Willhite (DI / Houston Baptist), Pat Kent (DII / Wayne State University), Alicia O’Brien (DIII / Central College), Scottie Wilkes (NAIA / Auburn Montgomery, Brett Magorian (Cal JC/Sierra College) and Errica Cantu (High School / Deer Park [Texas]) are the 2016 recipients of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association’s Assistant Coach of the Year award.
These awards salute the efforts of coaches from the various NFCA membership categories for their tireless dedication to the sport of softball and to the continued education, growth and development of young women, both on and off the playing field. All five of this year’s class of recipients played a pivotal role in their team’s success during the 2015-16 softball season.
NCAA Division I: Roger Willhite, Houston Baptist
Willhite, who built the softball field and everything around it, including a six-foot, three-sided Husky sculpture, will be entering his 24th year as an assistant coach at Houston Baptist, all by the side of head coach Mary-Ellen Hall. Six days before the start of the 2015-16 school year, Hall suffered a stroke leaving her paralyzed on the right side and in the hospital for 31 days. With no other assistants on staff, Willhite managed the program the entire fall and kept it going in the right direction, while still making time to visit Evans twice a day to keep her up to speed. Evans returned to school in the spring, but Willhite continued to work tirelessly taking on all the physical parts of coaching and recruiting, which included running all aspects of pregame warm up, batting practice, infield and outfield fungos. He also provided Evans with a ride to and from the office every day and made sure she was at every game in the spring.
In the words of Central Arkansas head coach David Kuhn- “I know the accomplishments for HBU Softball didn’t come in a championship. But to see, the loyalty, love, work ethic and compassion that Roger has for his university, softball team, his friend and head coach, was the best accomplishment I’ve witnessed.”
NCAA Division II: Pat Kent, Wayne State University
Kent has been associated with the Wayne State softball program since 1980, first as a player, then as a graduate assistant and for the last 31 years, assistant coach. The program’s first First-Team All-American (1983) has been a key cog over the past 33 years as the Warriors have won 1,209 games, including 50 in 2016. In addition to her role as the program’s defensive coach, Kent serves as academic advisor, creates practice plans and assists in all other aspects of the program, including scheduling, recruiting fund raising and budget preparation. She, along with NFCA Hall of Fame head coach Gary Bryce, is the driving force behind the fund raising efforts of the program and Wayne State’s pitching clinic, one of the most successful camps in Southeast Michigan. Kent has worked tirelessly for the program and all the while holds a full time job as a physical education teacher in the Clarkston (Mich.) Public Schools system.
In the words of Bryce- “I cannot express how important she is to the welfare and makeup of our team. Her energy cannot be matched by any other assistant for planning and implementing what has to be done to be successful. She has had opportunities to leave and become a head coach, but thank heaven she has stayed with our program. She would make any program better if she was a part of it.
NCAA Division III: Alicia O’Brien, Central College
O’Brien joined Central College as an associate head coach in 2006 after a highly successful head coaching career at Western Connecticut State University (18 years). Along with her coaching duties, O’Brien serves as the athletics department’s associate athletics director and senior woman administrator. Beyond the many regular duties she performs- recruiting coordinator, outfield coach, supervises study table, team travel- O’Brien has a willingness to always go the extra mile in serving the student-athlete and ensuring that every player has a successful experience at Central. One example of her selflessness is helping a recent player, who did not pan out as a player, get through college and graduate. She identified an undiagnosed learning disability and spent extra time each week, encouraging her and not only make sure she completed assignments, but was comprehending the subject matter. The student continued to seek her assistance and her graduation was a milestone day.
In the words of NFCA Hall of Famer and Dutch head coach George Wares- “The player’s graduation and continued development in life after graduation ranks as Alicia’s greatest coaching achievement.”
NAIA: Scottie Wilkes, Auburn Montgomery
Wilkes has played a key role in Auburn Montgomery’s success in just four years on the coaching staff, the last three as an assistant. Wilkes has helped the Warhawks to back-to-back NAIA national championships (2014 &15) and a final four finish in 2016. This past season also marked the first time the program won the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament and Gulf Coast Invitational. She works with pitchers and catchers, while also serving as the program’s director of operations, which includes ordering equipment, preparing scouting reports coordinating travel and umpire assignments and monitors academic study halls. Wilkes also does the leg work for the “pink out” day at AUM and coordinates all community service projects.
In the words of AUM head coach Eric Newell- “Scottie is really humble and valuable to the success of our program. Every coach desires a loyal assistant and coach Scottie shows me her commitment on a daily basis. She sometimes goes unnoticed because she does not like the limelight, but I can ensure you that she deserves a great deal of credit for the success AUM has had.”
Cal JC: Brett Magorian, Sierra College
Magorian joined the staff in 2013 as a volunteer assistant and has been an instrumental part of Sierra College’s success since. After one full season on the staff, Magorian, who works with infielder and hitters, played a key role in the program’s first State Championship title. He also assists in recruiting and according to head coach Darcie Brownell- has made the difference in our recruiting process and parents and players are intrigued by his passion for the game and Sierra College. Along with his on-the-field coaching and recruiting duties, Magorian put in the time and effort to solicit donations for and build an 800 square foot team room with customized lockers, along with walkways and landscaping. After the loss of his mother and fatal injury to his daughter in a 2014 car accident, Magorian returned after a short absence and dove right in to his responsibilities. According to Brownell It left an impression on the student-athletes and their respect for him grew tremendously. They learned a lifelong lesson from how Brett handle his tragic situation and put the game of softball in perspective for all of us.
In the words of Brownell- “He truly is my right hand man. My job has drastically changed and become easier after Brett joined our staff. Our program, facility and legacy has changed since Brett was hired. I understand that this tragic situation does not dictate an assistant coach of the year award, but what does is how you respond after a tragedy and how you do your job.”
High School: Errica Cantu, Deer Park High School (Texas)
Cantu has been a varsity assistant at Deer Park for seven years. During that time, she has been part of a program that has won two state championships (2012 & 2014) and was a state tournament semifinalist in 2013. With all the duties of the assistant coach (scouting, driving the bus and supervising managers to name a few), Cantu also juggles being a high school math teacher, mother of four children, the director of softball summer camp and administrator on duty for field use. In 2016, she had to step up in a big way after head coach Carrie Austgen was in a car accident, which limited her ability to engage in the day-to-day physical part of the job. Cantu stepped in and led the coaching staff and team with great success and the weekend the accident occurred. She was able to hold the line and guide Deer Park to an undefeated tournament, while Austgen was recovering.
In the words of Austgen- “It is these moments that we all find out what we are made of and I am very proud of the work she did and the coach she is becoming.”
The winners were nominated by their NFCA member head coach and selected by a panel of their peers on the NFCA Awards Committee. The recipients are all active NFCA members.