Former Jeep grows from player to coach

Photo Provided by MaKenzi Dorsam
2010 Northeast Dubois grad MacKenzi Dorsam, right, was a little reluctant to join the University of Southern Indiana softball team's coaching staff immediately after her playing days were over but the move is paying dividends.

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

They say that there are only two guarantees in life — death and taxes.

But it may be time to add two more ideas on to that list of eternal concepts, ones which come with living, moving forward, and making progress: change and adjustments. And if you need a person as a source for such ideals, look no further than MacKenzi Dorsam.

Dorsam, a 2010 graduate of Northeast Dubois and a three-sport athlete for the Jeeps, just finished her second full season as an assistant coach for the softball team at the University of Southern Indiana. And it was quite a sophomore campaign as the Screaming Eagles are coming off of a national title season after defeating Saint Anselm College 2-0 in their championship series. But according to Dorsam, championships weren’t necessarily on the vision board for the team’s goals this year.

“We were definitely not thinking national championship,” she admitted. “We knew we had talent. We graduated two very key players last year, an All-American catcher and our starting shortstop, two huge positions. We had two kids that were going to fill those roles.”

Dorsam would know. The former Dubois resident played softball in French Lick as a little girl and has played at almost every infield position, in addition to shouldering pitching duties, during that time. Though she credits herself more as an offensive threat (during her playing career at USI, she finished as a two-time All-American while also setting the all-time record for walks (82), finished second in runs scored (142), third in home runs (24), and fourth in RBIs with 126), those stints in the infield allowed her to enhance not only her skills as a player, but her knowledge and appreciation for softball.

It was this combination of talent and sports IQ which sparked an idea in the mind of head coach Sue Kunkle: why not do a second go around with recruiting Dorsam and try to get her to stay around as a coach after her playing career? So Kunkle started watering the seeds of change.

“Coach Kunkle actually talked to me a few times throughout the year,” said Dorsam, who was initially reluctant to get into coaching. But Kunkle kept at it. “She’d wait a month or so and she would bring it up again. She kept me thinking about it. That’s how she works.”

“I could tell by how much she wants to improve and get better. She’s quick to (say) that’s not good enough,” said Kunkle when she talked about Dorsam’s mental approach to the game, in addition to the knowledge and passion, which signaled that she could be a good fit for coaching.

It’s par for the course for Dorsam, who said that the challenge of getting better and improving is the magnetic force which kept drawing her deeper into the game of softball. But she would face a different challenge as she made this transition into her life: as a coach, she could no longer just be “one of the girls” in the dugout. She would have to be ready to direct, correct, and instruct players who were just her teammates in the not-so-distant past. It was a process.

“I had three classes of players that were my teammates,” she said. “I have to go from being best friends with all of these people, to now being an authority figure.”

To help deal with that, Kunkle and Dorsam made a concerted effort to bring the process along slowly and let Dorsam find her voice on the field and with the team. Dorsam said the first year on staff she was pretty much a cheerleader, offering positive reinforcement or slight corrections during drills and practice. But as the time passed and her responsibilities grew, Dorsam has been able to adjust to that aspect of the coaches role and has gotten more vocal as she gained the trust of the team.

But another adjustment she had to make was one of patience. Since she was such a talented and successful player, it was frustrating for her at times to see a player doing something wrong and not be able to don the glove and cleats to do it herself.

“You’re in the dugout and you’re yelling, like you just want to go out and do it for them,” she said. “You almost forget you’re a coach and you need to teach them how to get better. You want to do it yourself, because that’s what you’re used to doing.”

But she was able to make that change and in doing so has taken on the responsibility of not only coaching the outfielders (Kunkle said this past season was one of the best outfielding groups she has seen in her time at USI) but also running the practice days that focus more on batting and offense.

As Dorsam made the adjustments, she also never forgot her roots. The regular season was not overly impressive for the Screaming Eagles and they went into the postseason on a two-game skid. But Dorsam reminded them of an old sports principle — learning from the losses.

“We started saying ‘We’re just finding ourselves,’” she said. “We’re not losing, we’re learning. We had them tell us to make sure they were getting something out of that (loss).”

And the lessons worked wonders. The Screaming Eagles transformed into the team their talent said they could be, and they practically swept their way through the playoffs onto the program’s first ever national title.

The experience and the seasons of coaching before the title have solidified that coaching is Dorsam’s calling. She still has a lot of room to grow and much to learn, but Kunkle believes Dorsam could one day be a head coach either at USI when she retires, or move on to a another school if she doesn’t want to wait. But it seems clear — this new course is a change which has taken hold for good.

“Right now I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I feel like my love for the game keeps growing every single year. I keep growing as a coach and I keep trying to get better every year. As far as I can see this is what I want to be doing for the next 10 to 15 years.”




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