WALLA WALLA — Mark Michaud is undertaking a new challenge this spring.
The lifelong baseball player and coach took over the Walla Walla Community College softball program as interim head coach just a month ago, after longtime Warrior coach Mike Staudenmaier left.
And Michaud is having fun adjusting to the new game.
“It’s been going awesome!” he said, as he prepares for his first on-field action with the WWCC softball team at a preseason tournament in Richland this weekend. “I love working with the players. They’re tough, they want to work hard, they’re a good bunch of women.”
Michaud won three NCAA Division III baseball championships with Eastern Connecticut, and spent time as pitching coach at the University of Maine and Siena College in New York, among other collegiate stops, before coming to the Walla Walla Valley. He served as assistant coach with Whitman’s baseball team from 2010-12, and with the WWCC baseball team in 2013, as well as the pitching coach for the West Coast League’s Walla Walla Sweets in their four years of existence.
Michaud said there are many similarities between baseball and softball, as well as some distinct differences.
“The mechanics of the game is extremely similar,” he said of the transition. “With the exception of pitching and slap hitting, it has the same philosophies and skill work you’d do with baseball.
“It’s been very fun so far.”
Michaud has been getting invaluable help with the transition to softball from assistant coaches Kelsie Didion and Erica Hancock.
“I’m always looking to learn myself, but I have two very good assistants who are vital to the program,” Michaud said of Didion and Hancock.
The three got to know each other better by taking a trip to Seattle to hear from the staff of the University of Washington softball coaching staff.
“It’s been great being able to reach out to them (the Huskies) and learn some of the things they do,” Michaud said. “It was a good staff developer, and a good opportunity to get to know each other.”
As for his new Warrior softball squad, Michaud and his coaches have some strong sophomore leadership to complement a large freshman contingent.
“Our sophomores are outstanding,” he said. “They’ve been very good leaders.”
Key to that end is WWCC veteran first baseman Marisa Gonzales.
“She’s been vital to this team’s chemistry,” Michaud said. “She’s done a lot things to assist all the younger players, and to lead the sophomores, also. I can’t say enough good things about her, she’s a very good player, a good hitter.”
The new Warrior lineup is still very much a work in progress, but Michaud does have Gonzales penciled in at the three-spot in the batting order.
Also helping out with leadership is Walla Walla High grad Paige Pontarolo at shortstop.
“Shortstop is a key position, the center of everything and we need to be strong to win,” Michaud said. “Paige has held that down. She is a very athletic player and has worked hard at becoming a better defensive shortstop. Her instincts for the game are very good.”
Sam Robillard returns as a true left-handed slap hitter and outfielder for the Warriors.
“She is a very smart player,” Michaud said. “She has a very high softball IQ.”
Brooke Simpson, at second and/or third base, returns with “outstanding power and very good speed,” Michaud said, and Whitney Amberson brings her versatility in the outfield back to the Warriors.
Kendyl Hamilton is another sophomore tabbed primarily in center field, but could play anywhere in the outfield.
A couple of freshmen come from Rocky Mountain High in Meridian, Idaho, in Brianna Christian, who can play infield or outfield, and middle infielder Courtney Verity.
“They’re very, very good athletes,” Michaud said.
McLoughlin High product Cheyenne Kessler and Stefanie Snow should share some time behind the plate.
“The two are very good hitters, and good catchers,” Michaud said.
Wa-Hi graduate Sydney Schultz will see time in the WWCC outfield.
“She’s a good player, tough, has good IQ for game,” Michaud said. “She’s a good hitter, and has good hands.”
In the circle, Michaud said Jamie Moe, Hanna DeBaugh and Miranda Smith will pitch early in the season.
“I’m not opposed to taking a baseball approach to pitching, and taking two (pitchers),” he said. “Everyone will get a chance to see what they can do.”
As for the Warriors’ NWAACC East Region foes, “as a philosophy we don’t try to focus on how others are doing,” Michaud said, but points out Wenatchee won the NWAACC title last year.
“They have a very good program,” he said. “We expect everybody to be strong. I know there are a lot of strong programs out there, but right now I’m really excited to see the level of our competition and where we fit in the mix of the NWAACC and East Region.”
He does have his sights set on the postseason and reaching the NWAACC Tournament.
“Once you get in the tournament, anything can happen,” Michaud said. “I’m really excited about this opportunity. I’m having a blast, this is something I’m having fun with and I’m enjoying the process with this team. These girls have been awesome.”