For Makenzie Sullivan, it feels like just yesterday that she was a key part of championships in slow-pitch and fast-pitch softball for the Nettleton Lady Tigers.
Now, she will look to elevate the Lady Tigers back to that championship level as the 2012 alum has been named Nettleton’s next head fast-pitch softball coach.
“I knew when this job came open that I wanted to apply for it. I have always wanted to come back and coach here,” Sullivan said. “I feel like it’s a great opportunity to bring what we did when I played here back. To be able to come back and coach a totally different team with different players, I was really excited for the opportunity to be able to do that. My goal was to coach at Nettleton, not to coach somewhere else, and I wanted to come back home and coach here.”
Sullivan won slow-pitch state titles with Nettleton in 2009 and 2011 and a fast-pitch title in 2011, in addition to a few runner-up finishes in both sports, and continued that championship pedigree in college.
While at Jones College, she was a part of back-to-back state championships in 2013 and 2014 with the Bobcats also being the national runner-up in 2014. She played her final two years at Belhaven University, being a part of another national runner-up team there in 2016.
“I had great coaches at both places, and they really pushed all of us to the limit as far as what we can do on the field but also off the field in school and academics,” Sullivan said. “All those coaches are still there, so they must be doing something right, and Jones just finished national runner-up again. They gave me a lot of knowledge.”
Her love for Nettleton softball runs first and foremost, however. She has spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach and also was the assistant coach for the first Nettleton volleyball team last fall.
“I’m very proud of this program. They have made playoffs several times and done lots of big things, since I have graduated,” Sullivan said. “Some of these girls come into this program, and they know the state championships that were won. It took a lot of effort and energy and didn’t just happen by chance, so I want to bring that back with your attitude and effort on and off the field.”
With just finishing up her playing days five years ago, Sullivan hopes she can relate to her players using her own experience.
“I know it’s different being a player and a coach, but being able to put myself in the players’ shoes at one point in times, I feel like that’s a really big aspect of being able to help them in the areas that they need help in,” she said. “I feel like I haven’t been out of playing for too long, but then I go out there and try to do something, and I go, ‘Yep, it’s been that long.’”
Sullivan said the top two things she preaches in her coaching style are attitude and effort.
“I tell them that there are two things you can control, which is attitude and effort. If you give 100 percent effort every time you step on the field and have a good attitude no matter what, most likely things are going to turn in your favor,” she said. “I was very forthcoming with them when I told them what I expected and what my goals were, and I think they are excited which makes me excited. I just want them to be able to play with the talent that they have been given and see that hard work and dedication pay off.”
The Lady Tigers will have a young but experienced squad next season.
Nettleton’s lone senior last season was Anna Maldonado, who missed her senior year due to injury. The Lady Tigers will return all their starters from a team that just narrowly missed out on a playoff appearance.
“I have a great group of girls coming up, and they have been here and played, so I’m really excited about that,” Sullivan said. “I think that they are ready to get at it. Our last two games we played, we won and played really well. Even in the Amory series that we lost both games, we played well, and after those games, they realized that they are going to be able to do this, to win games and win divisions, and go far in the playoffs. After that, you saw a light in their eyes when they realized what they were capable of doing.”
Nettleton moves into a different division, losing the top two teams from 3A North in Booneville and Kossuth, but keeping county rivals Amory and Hatley in their region.
“I think it will be a really competitive division, and I’m excited to be able to play different teams,” Sullivan said. “We played Amory last year and will again this year, and I think the girls are looking forward to being able to play those games again. We have played Hatley a lot in the past, and we’re within about 20 minutes of both teams, so it’s not that far. We talked about goals, and our goal is to win that new division, make it to playoffs and see how far we can get. I think we are really going to be able to compete.”
Sullivan is beginning her plans for her team with amping up summer workouts.
“We’re lifting weights, doing agility stuff, and I think that’s really going to help them out, not just in softball, but in every sport,” she said. “With practice, we’re going to go back to the fundamentals of catching, throwing and hitting. We had some troubles last year with fielding, and sometimes it was because we weren’t in the game 100 percent and our focus was somewhere else. I feel like if we are able to focus 100 percent during the seven innings we play, that we will be able to make those plays in tough situations.”