Preparation steers Eckerle’s takeoverJuly 19, 2017
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Cori Eckerle’s just 26 years old and hadn’t been a head coach of a college program before. Yet a visage of confidence and assurance can take you places.
It worked for Eckerle, who never sensed she was out of her league in the process of trying to spring from a graduate assistant coach to a college head softball coach. Just seven years after graduating from Jasper High School in 2010, Eckerle met her mission of ascent when she was recently named the head softball coach at Hanover College, a Division III school on the Ohio River in southeastern Indiana.
In landing the gig, Eckerle leaned on a portfolio that she thickened at the University of Indianapolis first as a player, then as an assistant coach at one of the pre-eminent Division II softball programs in the country. When the call came from Hanover, Eckerle can’t say she was surprised.
“Not really, and the only reason I say that is because the UIndy softball program is extremely respected, and (UIndy) Coach (Melissa) Frost gave me a lot of tools to be successful coming out of the gate,” said Eckerle, who was the Great Lakes Valley Conference Freshman of the Year in 2011 and played more than 200 games in her college career. “It’s going to be new no matter where I went, and I just told myself, ‘This is the opportunity that I like, and if they like me I’m going to take it and run with it,’ and it just worked out. I’m really excited about it. I was applying for assistant jobs and some smaller head coaching jobs, and this seemed to be the one that fit me and them the best.”
Eckerle knows adjustments await from the D-II to the D-III game; little things like a shorter schedule (40 games compared to 56 in D-II), a few more offseason restrictions and a lighter schedule when it comes to travel. The chief difference, Eckerle said, is Division III’s heightened emphasis on academics. Athletic scholarships aren’t offered at the D-III level and intercollegiate sports are more supplementary to classwork instead of sometimes vice versa at the peak D-I or D-II levels.
Not to say there’s any sort of outage in talent where Eckerle’s arriving. She takes over a program that’s been at or above .500 the past several seasons. And after the Panthers assembled a run to the regional level of the Division III tournament a few years ago, Eckerle’s intent on getting Hanover to taste that type of success (and beyond) once she gets started.
“I think sometimes it can be misconstrued that Division III might not be as competitive, which I don’t think is true,” Eckerle said. “I saw this conference play last spring, and sitting there at the game, you would never think I’m sitting here at a Division III game.”
Eckerle’s familiar with the thrust on academics since her stint as a graduate assistant coach included monitoring study tables and occasional meetings with players who were at risk academically. Some of the other ancillary duties of being an assistant coach at UIndy — such as assisting with travel and hotel arrangements — made the sacrifice worth it for Eckerle as she squeezed by for a couple years on a lean paycheck and heavy responsibilities as she also completed her Master of Business Administration degree in the same span.
“It was a bit of a strain, but now it definitely means full-time (work) and benefits and things like that,” said Cori, the daughter of Roger and Terri Eckerle. “It’s definitely more stable and more comforting moving forward in life. That is really, really nice.”
Eckerle’s optimism even applies to her daily commute. It’s a little more than an hour from where she lives in Hebron, Kentucky (near the convergence point of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky) but “it’s a really easy drive,” she said. Plus, it’s a convenient setup for Eckerle and her fiancee, Alesa Collinsworth, who’s a police officer able to work closer to home.
Eckerle will also take on another smaller position at Hanover — it could range from facility management to helping with game-day operations for sporting events, for example — though it hasn’t been determined yet. That’s where Eckerle’s span of experiences can again provide a boost. She started at UIndy as a nursing major, switched course for an exercise science undergraduate degree, then completed the MBA mission, “because I wanted to have some experience in case after coaching I want to move into administration. I always thought you can’t really go wrong with getting an MBA,” Eckerle said. “That’s why I kind of leaned that way, get something that’ll be useful after coaching as well.”
Eckerle’s met only a few of her new players so far, but when she gets started she’ll be able to draw from a breadth of knowledge since that was stressed when she was an assistant coach at UIndy. Primarily a catcher during her collegiate playing days, Eckerle worked with catchers as a graduate assistant but also assisted with the pitchers and helped with hitting so as to not become too specialized in one niche.
In being behind the scenes of recruiting at UIndy, Eckerle also gathered a list of traits she’s wanting in potential players — competitive, respectful, good students, and able to tackle failure and adversity. To find it, Eckerle might reach out closer to her southwestern Indiana home, as it falls within the three-hour radius where Hanover typically recruits yet isn’t represented now on Hanover’s roster with most girls hailing from the Indianapolis-to-Louisville-to-Cincinnati triangle.
“There’s been quite a few kids who have shown interest in Hanover in the past,” Eckerle said, “so I think that’s another market I can tap into, especially knowing the area.”
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