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Expectations high for new Latrobe softball coach

| Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, 9:00 p.m.
Rick Shaheen is the new softball coach at Latrobe High School. Submitted

Rick Shaheen said he wanted to work with the best, and he may have found it with the Latrobe softball team.

Shaheen coached Mt. Pleasant to a 16-6 record and berth in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals last spring. Despite the team's success, there was something missing for Shaheen.

“I've always wanted to coach at the highest level I could possibly do, which is Quad-A,” said Shaheen, who was hired late last month to coach the Latrobe softball team. “I elected to go to Latrobe, and that's one of the reasons. Plus too, Latrobe has a tremendous feeder system in Latrobe Little League and West Point.”

The recreation teams in Latrobe train the girls to play fast-pitch, while most of the programs in Mt. Pleasant were based in slow-pitch. Since his players already have an understanding of the advanced game, Shaheen will have a completely different coaching technique, beginning with observation.

“I'm going to use fall ball to evaluate what I can bring to the table,” he said. “Fall ball will be a good opportunity for me to evaluate. Having a background in pitching, I'll have an opportunity to look at the pitchers and see what, if anything, that I do need to change.”

Shaheen will have big shoes to fill at Latrobe, replacing Bob Kovalcin who resigned this summer after leading Latrobe to WPIAL titles in 2007, '08 and '11 in addition to PIAA runner-up finishes in 2007 and 2008. He had a record of 141-49 during his nine years as head coach.

“They have a great tradition of winning at Latrobe,” Shaheen said. “I hope I can only build on what Bob Kovalcin has done. He had an outstanding nine years there. We just hope that we can build on top of it.”

Shaheen began coaching when two of his daughters, Jennifer and Lauren, began playing softball at the recreation level and moved up with them in age groups. He spent most of his time at West Point where he coached for 10 years before moving on to the West Penn Gems 18U travel team. He also has experience coaching local pitchers on an individual level, some of which, moved on to Division I teams.

“I think what impressed the committee was his involvement with all levels,” Latrobe athletic director Mark Mears said. “They looked at the diverse background that he has in all levels of softball, and they were really impressed with it.”

Mears said Shaheen has the tools to be successful at Latrobe, it just depends on how the cards play out.

“I think a lot of it depends on who he surrounds himself with and how he relates to the Latrobe community,” Mears said. “There is a lot of talent in our community so the key is going to be if he can transition without disruption.”

Shaheen's plan is to hire a young coaching staff composed of some of his former players from the Gems and Latrobe to surround himself and the players with a young and new perspective.

“I'm kind of open-minded right now,” Shaheen said, “but I'm looking for some youth for the coaching staff. You know how it goes, a brand new coach, I'm evaluating everything.”

Shaheen also will be under the microscope, with everyone watching, according to Mears.

“I know that Latrobe is a very intense softball community,” Mears said, “and the expectations will be high.”

Brittany Goncar is a freelance writer.

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