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30 Games In: Q&A with Brent Vigness

Last year, the Bluejays came into the season with arguably the greatest pitcher in MVC history, Tara Oltman, in the circle. This year, freshman Becca Changstrom is the team’s ace. Last year, All-American Renae Sinkler provided an offensive spark to a team with six experienced seniors. This year, All-MVC selection Amy Baker provides an offensive spark to a team with 17 underclassmen, including 11 freshmen and just four upperclassmen. Last year, after 30 games, the Jays were 14-16, but turned their season around and advanced to the NCAA tournament. This year, 30 games into the season, the Jays are 14-16 after facing a similar non-conference schedule. Head coach Brent Vigness says the next month will tell a lot about what kind of team he has on his hands.

Vigness sat down with White and Blue Review to talk about the season so far, what to expect from Missouri State this weekend, and what Win #565 means to him.

White and Blue Review: Through 30 games, you’ve got the exact same record as last year. How do you assess where the team is at this year compared to last?

Brent Vigness: Rob Simms gave me that stat the other day and I didn’t remember that. I was really surprised to hear that we had an identical record. In a lot of areas I feel like we are doing better statistically for sure than last year. We’re hitting a little bit better, we’re making some good adjustments. With a young group, I am pretty pleased with what we’re doing. I’m disappointed in our win-loss record. I think there’s at least three or four, maybe even five wins that we should have additional to what we currently do. The growth of this team, when you look at six seniors and one returner who decided not to come back, so there’s really seven full-time starters who aren’t in the lineup this year from last year. So I’m proud of the progress we’re making. The next month is going to determine a lot though. One month from today is our last regular season game.

WBR: After the seven-game losing streak, it seems like the team has been playing better softball. What’s been the difference?

BV: We’ve just been a little bit better in every phase of the game, number one. And number two, during that streak we played some awfully good teams. We played Arizona, Arizona State twice, Eastern Carolina, who is doing well in Conference-USA, we played New Mexico State. So we played some good teams and it was one of those things that with a young team some things probably snowballed on us and went the wrong direction. I think that they finished strong in Arizona. There was probably another win we should’ve had out there and that was one that I was talking about. Against Campbell we got down, but since that point we’ve been playing better.

WBR: After a slow start, Amy Baker has been ripping the ball. Is she as good offensively as Tara Oltman was as a pitcher?

BV: Amy has a chance to rewrite the record book. I didn’t know if we’d be talking about that for awhile after what Renae (Sinkler) did last year for us. Renae was able to put up 20-some home runs last year and was an All-American. Amy’s on pace to match those numbers. She was off to a little bit of a slow start, I think she was feeling a little pressure. Last year she hit behind Renae and you hit behind an All-American and they pitch around the All-American and pitch to the freshman. Well now they’re pitching around Amy and trying to pitch to different people. I think patience at the plate is a key for Amy especially now that she’s on such a roll people will pitch around her. How she handles that, recognizing what pitch she wants to hit and making sure she stays off the other stuff, but she has a chance to really rewrite the record book here at Creighton.

WBR: Talk a little bit about the impact Jenn Bohle is having on the team after redshirting a year ago.

BV: Jenn’s an extremely gifted athlete. She’s was very good softball player and she was also a track star at Westside so her speed is something that she really brings to the table. The other thing that people probably don’t know about her is that she was a right-handed hitter up until the end of last fall – this current fall. This fall at the end of the season after the end of our last competitive fall game, we moved her to the left-handed side and she’d never really done anything from the left side. So really she’s only seen 30 games from the left-handed side of the batter’s box and right now she’s leading the MVC in hitting. If she’s stay under control and continue to make contact, she’s gonna have a chance to have some great numbers at the end of the year. Sometimes she moves too fast and she’ll get going to first base before she actually hits it and we remind her to make contact with the ball and make them throw you out because her speed is as good as we have on this team. I’m really proud of her, she’s done a great job defensively at second base and now we’ve moved her to shortstop. She’s improved as much as anyone in the last year. And the redshirt, even though we were disappointed with her injury and she was disappointed that she didn’t get to play last year, it probably really benefitted her because she’s made a lot of growth in the past year.

WBR: Becca Changstrom has emerged as the team’s ace. Is this something you expected out of her right away as a freshman?

BV: Yeah. When you recruit someone, you always hope they’re gonna come in and be able to continue to raise the level of play and match with the level of competition.  Becca’s been able to do that. After what she showed us in the fall, we as a coaching staff thought she had a chance to be our number one and she’s just continued to get better. She’s only had the one outing where she didn’t throw particularly well – last Sunday against Bradley. Part of that might have been our fault where she threw against Nebraska on Wednesday and she came in in relief against Iowa State. We used her a great deal on Saturday where she pitched the first game of the doubleheader and then came in in relief again and then to start again on Sunday.  That was a lot of innings in a short period of time. I think a lot of it was how we used her and we’re going to have to be a little bit more careful so I think you’ll see her bounce back and have a great finish to the season and I think she’ll have a great weekend at Missouri State.

WBR: Last year was interesting with Tara getting called for illegal pitches. No problems with that this year?

BV: There was a stat that I think there was 20-some last year and this year we’ve only had five or six. It’s an occasional call. All of our pitchers – and that’s the interesting thing about softball pitchers – they all pitch a little bit different. What Tara did was a little bit unique to Tara. There were times where she probably should have been called for illegal pitches and there were some other times I didn’t think she should have been. Our pitches this year don’t pitch the way Tara did so I’m surprised we’ve had any called this year, but it’s only been five or six.

WBR: Assuming none of those illegal pitches get called like they did last year against Missouri State, what do you expect from them this weekend?

BV: They just had a big win against Arkansas. They beat Arkansas 2-1. Their pitcher is really crafty. She has a lot of off-speed pitches. She’s gonna try to fool us. She’s going to try to disrupt our hitters’ timing. We’ve talked a lot about that. We’re going to have to make great adjustments at the plate.  Their number one pitcher, if she’s effective, could throw the majority of the series. I would expect her to start the first and third games and she could maybe even come in in relief. Now it’s going to be our job to make some adjustments to what she’s trying to do. We’ve already talked about that, so I think that’s going to be the key is our ability to make an adjustment to her. And then offensively they have some speed and some good hitters. They’re going to manufacture some runs. What they haven’t shown is the ability to consistently hit the long ball, so hopefully we can keep the score down and make some adjustments to what Rose is going to do for us in the circle.

WBR: You recently picked up win No. 565 making you the winningest coach in any sport in Creighton history. Are you happy with your decision to return to the Hilltop after briefly accepting the Wisconsin job?

BV: Of course I’m glad to be at Creighton. It’s a special place. The things that I’ve thought about during this time, and you try not to think too much about it, is the players and the student-athletes that I’ve been so fortunate to work with over 18 years. You remember how you recruited them and the improvements they’ve made and the big plays that they made or just the ability to hopefully help them throughout their career here.  Working with the great student-athletes that I’ve had here and then I’ve been really fortunate to have great assistant coaches. So those are the things that I reflect on and I suppose that whenever our season is over I’ll probably think about it a little bit more, but I’m very happy to be at Creighton. It’s a neat recognition I guess and it mainly comes down to longevity. Mary Higgins was a legend here and Mary actually interviewed me and was a really involved in the hiring process so I’m very thankful to Mary for giving me the opportunity and for Bruce (Rasmussen) to continue to give me the opportunity so it’s something I feel pretty good about.

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