Conrad, Phillips share Daily News Softball Coach of Year honors
Missy Conrad and Casey Phillips want to build successful programs and each knows that to accomplish their long-term goals, they had to begin with a breakout season.
And that's exactly what the 2013 Daily News Softball co-Coaches of the Year did this spring.
For Conrad, she built upon a 2012 postseason appearance at McKeesport with a 10-game season-opening winning streak, a 12-0 record in Section 2 and the school's first WPIAL Class AAAA playoff victory. In her three years with the program, the improvement has been tangible, from a volunteer season in 2011 when the Tigers went 5-11, to 10-9 and a playoff berth in 2012 to this season with a 17-5 record, a section title and a postseason win over Baldwin.
“It's a lot of time, and the reason why I took over was because I had the time during the week to spend time and be a leader with the kids,” she said. “It was a lot of work on my part … because I knew I would have to spend time with them hitting extra grounders and fly balls, and I enjoy it, which is why I take the time and do it.”
Her extra effort rubbed off on her players. The additional time on the field as well as offseason weight room training aided immensely as the Tigers didn't wear down through a tough grind.
“The work ethic of the girls really stood out, and obviously, I wouldn't be where I am without them and their efforts of coming to practice every day, doing their best at conditioning and doing their best at games,” Conrad said. “A lot of the credit goes to the girls with their dedication and time that they put forth.”
Now Conrad has to deal with something else this offseason: expectation. McKeesport loses only one starter, senior catcher Kasey Dansak, and after taking eventual WPIAL finalist North Allegheny to task before losing, 7-5, in the quarterfinals, the Tigers could be projected as a potential state tournament team in 2014.
“They know that they can do it, and they know how to get further into the playoffs. One of our goals was to win the first playoff game school history,” Conrad said. “Now they're going to start working earlier than they did last year because they don't want that feeling of losing. They want to get to the (WPIAL) championship game and, obviously, returning as section champs, they're going to want to set the bar higher.”
While Conrad got the team a game beyond where it had been a year earlier, Phillips guided West Mifflin to a place it had only imagined. Not only did the Titans end a 15-year postseason drought, they ended McKeesport's season-opening winning streak with a 12-11 victory, tied Elizabeth Forward to earn a share of the Section 3 title and came within a run of appearances in the WPIAL Class AAA championship game and its first-ever trip to the state tournament.
“The transition has been drastic because the program really didn't have an identity and it was kind of an afterthought,” said Phillips, who completed his fifth year at West Mifflin. “We came into a program that didn't have any expectations, didn't know how to win or how to build a program, so we had to start from the ground up and we were willing to do that because we weren't afraid of the challenge and weren't afraid of the grind.”
Phillips took over a team that was 1-15 in 2008 and built it to a squad that finished 17-6 in 2013 with postseason victories over perennial playoff participants Mount Pleasant and No. 2 seeded Trinity before losing to Ambridge, 5-4, in the semifinals and to West Allegheny, 5-1, in the third-place consolation game with a berth in the state playoffs on the line.
And, like Conrad, Phillips and his Titans will have increased expectations next season. West Mifflin loses three infield starters, second baseman Kaylynn Andress, shortstop Marla Small and third baseman Syd Zalice — all of whom will play collegiately — who comprised the 2-3-4 spots in the lineup and combined for 63 runs scored and 58 RBI.
Despite the departures, West Mifflin wants to prove this year was not just a one-season anomaly. And that is the goal the Titans have already put in place for 2014.
“What we did this year and what we'll be able to catapult is that there is an expectation level that didn't exist in the past,” Phillips said. “Now we know what we can do and we know we have a lot coming back next year.”