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NFCA Feature Coach Of The Week

Five years ago, Ritchie Richardson was in trouble. He had just taken over as head softball coach at Olivet Nazarene University (Kankakee, Illinois) and his team wasnít very good.

"We got by with what we had," says Richardson of Olivet Nazarene's 1995 team that won a total of 14 games. "And what we had was nine players and not a lot of talent. We were one bad hop away from cancelling the season."

Determined to change that, Richardson attacked the recruiting trail with one message for all future Tiger softballers. "I told them (recruits), 'we're not very good now, but we're gonna be, and we want you to be a cornerstone of our program." "

That approach convinced nine freshmen to enroll at Olivet Nazarene for the 1995-96 school year. Four years later, six of those freshmen completed four-year careers that helped produce 194 wins, three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference championships, three Great Lakes Regional Championships and three appearances in the NAIA World Series.

Does the graduation of the six seniors signal an end to the four-year Olivet Nazarene dynasty? Richardson says no, and the numbers back him up. This year's Tigers are No. 16 in the most recent NAIA Poll with a 21-4 record.

"Each year we've gotten good players and we've got a great nucleus coming back," he says of this year's team, citing junior shortstop Anna Babinski (fourth in the NAIA In runs scored in 1999) and sophomore pitchers Stefanie Steele and Jenni Hornok among the top returnees. "We've got two sophomore pitchers who will step up and be fantastic and our infield is almost intact. We've got a transfer (catcher Erin Moreland, from Loras College in Iowa) who I think is one of the best players in the country. Around our conference and region, teams may think that this is a rebuilding year for us, but we're not looking at it like that. We're gonna be real disappointed if weíre not in that national tournament again this year."

A respected clinician, Richardson is a frequent contributor to the drills section in Fastpitch Delivery. His 229-91 career coaching record (counting this year's first 25 games) and 13 conference and national coach of the year awards lend credence to his presentations, and he is eager to share his softball know-how with his colleagues.

"I like putting thoughts on paper," he says. "I enjoy sharing any knowledge I might have, particularly when it's an idea you feel like not everybody else has. I believe whether it's pitching or catching or whatever it might be, there are certain techniques that not everybody knows about that can make players better, and I really like talking about those subjects."