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Fastpitch Coach: Q&A

Beginning this week, NFCA Home Plate will conduct an interview with a member head coach.

This week's guest is Sandy Jerstad, head softball coach at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Overall win-loss record at present position: 815-292-2 .

Accomplishments: Eight North Central Conference championships, 12 NCAA Regional appearances, national champions in 1991, national runner-up in 1993, 28 All-Americans, 12 First-team All-Americans, 74 All-Conference players, three Academic All-Americans, Ranked in the top 10 to end the season nine times, College women's Coach of the Year for the South Dakota Sportswriters in 1998, NFCA Region Coach of the Year 1988, 1993; NCC Coach of the Year 1991, 1992, 1993.

Undergraduate Alma Mater and year graduated: St. Olaf College (Minnesota), 1966. Postgraduate degrees: M.S., South Dakota State University, 1980; Ed.D., University of South Dakota, 1994.

Softball playing career highlights: When I was growing up and throughout high school and college, not only were there no opportunities to play softball or any other sport, women were discouraged from athletic participation.

Q: When did you know you wanted to coach fastpitch softball and how did you get started?

SJ: My husband Mark was hired by Augustana College in December of 1976 to be the Campus Pastor. In visiting with one of the students who had stopped by to get to know him, he discovered the softball team didn't have a coach (it was then late February). He told the visitor that his wife could coach softball, and she reported that back to the athletic director, who promptly hired me for $500 a year. I knew immediately I loved coaching, and that I would have to go back to school and get my credentials if I wanted to continue (I had graduated from St. Olaf with an English education degree with a Spanish minor).

Q: Who are some of the coaches and non-coaches you learned the most from and what did you learn?

SJ: My early mentors were Linda Wells (Arizona State) and Betty Hoff (Luther College). I learned a great deal about the game and about coaching. Recent mentors and friends have been Mike Candrea (Arizona), Rhonda Revelle (Nebraska), and Mona Stevens (Utah).

Q: What do you think you do best as a coach?

SJ: I believe recruiting and leadership (including team relationship) are two of my better talents. I also like to think I am a good hitting coach.

Q: What would you change, if anything, about the recruiting process?

SJ: The recruiting season is too long. We need some restrictions so it doesn't potentially eat up our whole year.

Q: If there is one rule or procedure change you would like to see the NCAA adopt, what would it be?

SJ: Limiting recruiting opportunities in terms of observation, dead time and contact time.

Q: When recruiting, what's the first thing you look for in a player? What's the second thing?

SJ: The first thing is intelligence as a student and as a player. The second thing is raw talent and potential.

Q: What makes for a successful season?

SJ: There are many things that go into a successful season. First, a team that has good internal leadership, comaradarie, and high goals. Second, a team that is willing to work hard, go the extra mile, take care of each other and themselves, discipline in terms of physical condition, studies, and time management and that is committed to the same goals. Third, 100% effort throughout the season. A very important concept is winning and losing with class and graciousness. A truly successful season means never giving up, and taking extreme pride in all accomplishments and making the extra effort.

Q: What do you think was the best coaching job you ever did?

SJ: Bringing the team to nationals in 1998 when we weren't expected to win regionals.

Q: What was your greatest moment as a coach?

SJ: Winning nationals in 1991.

Q: What was your worst moment as a coach?

SJ: Losing in Regionals in 1994, when we had the most talented team we've ever had, and were expected to win it all.

Q: What is funniest/strangest/most memorable experience you and your team have had on the road?

SJ: A couple of things come to mind immediately. Once when we were in Florida and had to leave on a plane the day we played, we discovered there was no water in our motel rooms when we returned to shower and head to the airport. We were also very late, so everyone ended up jumping into the pool in their uniforms. Another adventure was in 1991 when we were going to nationals. We had to leave on two different flights out of Sioux Falls and meet in Chicago. Our flight to Midland , Michigan was cancelled (probably not enough business), and we ended up spending the day in O'Hare airport, being taken from one smoke-filled waiting room to another, and finally arriving in Midland at 6:30 that night. When we tried to practice the next morning, it had rained, and our third baseman sprained her ankle badly after slipping on the wet sidewalk. Despite these distractions, we still ended up winning the tournament, after a thrilling come from behind win over Portland State in 16 innings.

Q: How has the game changed since you first became involved?

SJ: My first year of coaching we played 14 games, and won or lost by scores like 24-22. I had 23 players out for the team, and some had never played softball before. We rode to the games in a sawed-off bus that wouldn't go over 50 mph. We lost to schools that don't even exist anymore. I coached softball and tennis my first six years at Augustana, and then softball and volleyball my next six years. Recruiting was pretty minimal. We certainly didn't practice or play nearly as much as we do today. Athletes could easily play two sports, and coaches could coach two sports. We didn't have off-season play or practice.

Q: What's your take on the bat and ball issue? Are the balls or bats at fault, or both, or neither? Is there a problem? If so, what would you like to see done?

SJ: I think the thing that needs to be done is bat testing to determine rebound time. I think that bats need to be regulated in terms of composition and rebound capacity, and that rules need to be set. Bats are becoming too hot, and if you don't have a lot of money in your program to buy these very expensive bats, you are going to be handicapped. These bats tend to break down very quickly, and the manufacturers are not standing behind them. Something needs to be done there as well. Also, the balls are breaking down very quickly. These are expensive, frustrating, and potentially dangerous problems for our sport.

Q: What do you love most about coaching?

SJ: I love working with my team. I am inspired and encouraged by these wonderful young people. They give me energy and they make me laugh. I have a chance to help them grow and make good choices at a critical time in their lives. I love mentoring them. I love our shared experiences together. Now that my own children are grown and gone, they are like family to me. When my husband died two years ago, they were a huge support to me. past and present players.

Q: What do you love least about coaching?

SJ: All the fund-raising I have to do to make my program go.

Q: Complete this sentence: "My coaching career has been successful if the majority of my players..."

SJ: Graduate and become productive, well-adjusted members of society.

Q: Who was the best player (position or pitcher) you've ever coached against?

SJ: Kathy Slaten, pitcher from Cal State Northridge, in 1990. We played them in Regionals.

Q: Which is the best team you've ever coached against?

SJ: Two teams come to mind: Portland State in 1991. We met them in the semi-finals of the Final Four. They had a tremendous pitcher, excellent hitters, and a very good defense. They were a seasoned, old team. We were fortunate to beat them in 16 innings. We played Nebraska in 1995 at UNI. I have great respect for Rhonda and her program, and it was great fun to be on the field. We were ahead for a while, but ended up losing.

Q: If you could go anywhere in the world for a week, all expenses paid, where would you go?

SJ: I would love to visit Norway and Sweden.

Q: What haven't you done yet in your life that you still want to do?

SJ: Ride my bike across the United States and from Port Angeles, WA to Southern California on Highway 101, ride my bike through Europe, tour New England in the fall, write a book or two, see my daughters married, cross country ski in the mountains, travel internationally with my team, and study theologyat Harvard.

Q: What advice would you give to young people who want to coach softball?

SJ: Do it! Learn as much as you can from seasoned coaches, learn from your players, try new things, work hard, believe in what you do, work at developing leadership within the team, communicate clearly and often with everyone, have fun.

Q: If you weren't coaching softball, what would you be doing?

SJ: Traveling, volunteering, biking, playing with my granddaughter, going to elderhostels, hosting retreats at my cabin, writing, and learning about the stock market.

Q: What is your favorite movie?

SJ: The Sound of Music.

Q: Who is your favorite movie star (living or dead)?

SJ: Robert Redford and Bette Midler

Q: What is your favorite television show?

SJ: Touched by an Angel

Q: What is your favorite song?

SJ: Amy Grant - I Remember You.

Q: What is your favorite food?

SJ: Walleye and wild rice

Q: Your favorite book?

SJ: There are too many to name one - I like Gerhard Frost for devotional and inspiration; William Stegner for a good novel, well-written, as well as Shreve (Pilot's wife, Weight of Water); C.S. Lewis for biography.

Q: When "The One Great Scorer comes to write against your name", what would you like to see written there?

SJ: I have the chance to see my name on my headstone often, because I have buried my husband, and my name is on that same stone. I often wonder when I will join him, so I have thought more about what I would like to accomplish here first. I want my life to be a witness to my Lord first of all, in everything that I do. I want to be faithful at using the talents God has given me, in every area of my life. I want to experience God's love in a personal way, and give it back to everyone God places in my life. I feel I have a chance to do that in my job. I can definitely influence lives. I would like to be remembered as someone who really cared about people and relationships, who worked hard, who loved life and people passionately, and who was faithful to her Lord.