OTTUMWA – There was a pink folder, a stack of papers and huge set of keys.
Mandi Moore stacked them all up Tuesday night inside the Ottumwa High School athletics and activities office, answered a few questions, glanced back at the stack and smiled.
“It’s pretty neat to think these are in my hands now,” Moore said as she was officially introduced by Ottumwa High School as the new head softball coach, becoming just the second coach in the 47-year history of the program. “I always had the key to (Huston) Field when I was in school and I had to go down and pitch. I didn’t think it would be this soon to have them as a coach just six years after being a player going down to practice.”
The keys indeed have been turned over from Frank Huston, the first and only coach of Ottumwa softball in the first 46 seasons of the program. After 1,853 wins, the second most in Iowa High School softball history, and a record-tying 28 state tournament appearances, Huston retired in July following Ottumwa’s 4-1 loss to Indianola in a consolation game of this year’s 5A state softball tournament.
Moore, who played on three state tournament teams for Huston, has been the person selected to carry on the great tradition of the Bulldog softball program as head coach. The weight of the responsibility is not lost on the former all-state OHS pitcher.
“They are definitely big shoes to fill,” Moore said. “I don’t think you don’t necessarily have to fill them and worry about making something better, because it’s such a good program. You can hope in and make certain tweaks that you want to go with and go along with the ride.
“Being one of Frank’s former players, I’m very humbled. I really tried to model my coaching style to what he’s done. I don’t think it’s going to be a huge adjustment. I’m going to try to ride with what Frank’s set in place and add my little tweaks when I need to.”
Huston talked about the advantages of having a new coach in place for the Ottumwa softball program.
“I think that fresh eyes will help the program in terms how the players develop in the offseason, the style of play, how the team practices and most importantly who plays,” Huston said. “The bottom line is that fresh eyes can be a positive thing moving forward.”
For Moore, preparing for a season is perhaps the biggest thing she has learned in her initial years as a softball coach. Last year was Moore’s first year as a high school head coach, taking over at Keokuk High School after one seasons spent as a junior high softball coach at Cardinal.
“There are a ton of things you need to do besides just plan for practice in terms of getting the girls ready to go for an upcoming season,” Moore said. “You need to get an offseason workout plan in place. You need to make sure there are people in place to help out during the season, whether it’s making sure people are there to run the concession stand, getting the field ready for each game. There are so many things I learned about coaching besides what takes place on the field just from last year at Keokuk.”
Moore is going to have to balance getting prepared for her first season at the helm of the Ottumwa softball program while finishing out the entire school year as an instructor at Keokuk. In fact, Moore made the trip up to Ottumwa on Tuesday after teaching at Keokuk and returned to Keokuk later Tuesday evening.
Over the next several months, Moore will need to put together her own coaching staff and meet with the current members of the Ottumwa softball team. Fortunately for Moore, her first group of Bulldog softball players includes 19 returning members of the varsity squad that finished 33-9, was ranked in the top 10 of Class 5A throughout the year and qualified for state for the first time since Moore’s senior season of 2013.
“The first thing Frank told me when I got the job was congratulations, then he gave me the contact number for where we work in the offseason,” Moore said. “He’s preparing me for what I need to do to get the ball rolling. I really want to get my coaches set and get them involved with the process. They’re just as important as I am. Four minds always think better than one.
“Having so many players, especially upperclassmen, that have been there and can help pass their experience on to the next group of players your bringing in. Being able to bring up eighth graders and having good role models to look up to is going be very important to the development of the program. Once you’ve tasted it, for state experience, you always want to go back. I think that’s going to help our drive for the upcoming season.”
Kaylee Bix will be one of those key returning starters for Moore having earned all-state honors after helping lead Ottumwa at the plate and in the field to last year’s state tournament appearance. Bix, Kacy Nickerson, Hannah Huisinga, Jillian Heaton, Ashton Brown and Madalyn Jones are the six current seniors that were part of Huston’s historic final Ottumwa softball season and can be a part of another historic season as Ottumwa enters a new era with a new coach.
“Mandi played with one of my sisters (Megan), so I know her a little bit,” Bix said. “I’m pretty excited. I think we have a great chance to do something special with a lot of returning players. I’m excited she’s going to be our new head coach. I hope we’re good for her and we can gel together with her.”