The next pitch
IU softball needed to make a coaching change after former head coach Michelle Gardner resigned from the program on May 24. Senior Associate Athletic Director Scott Joraanstad led the search party for a replacement after the team finished the year with a 23-31 overall record.
On June 10, the Hoosiers found their new head coach.
Shonda Stanton comes to IU after spending 18 seasons as head coach of the Marshall University Thundering Herd. Stanton left after leading the Herd to a 42-12 record and a conference USA regular season title last season.
Stanton was faced with a tough decision after becoming the most winningest coach in Marshall history with 560 career wins. Even after recording 12 30-win seasons, the 2017 C-USA Coach of the Year said she wanted more. Playing in the Big Ten and the tradition of excellence are just a few of the reasons she made the move.
“When IU became open, I got a phone call and everything just felt right,” Stanton said. “I was so impressed with Fred Glass (IU Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics) and the entire senior staff. This community is also somewhere I could see raising my family.”
The North Olmsted, Ohio native started her coaching career as a graduate assistant at Ashland University, a mid-sized private school in Ashland, Ohio.
“I worked for three head coaches,” Stanton said. “I got to coach women’s basketball, softball and volleyball and I think that’s what gave me the opportunity to be a head coach at 24 at IUPUI. It was the first year they were a Division I and we had inherited a team that only won eight games the prior year. We went on to win 27 games and had flipped the culture pretty quick.”
Stanton only spent one year in Indianapolis before moving on to Marshall where she was able to build a sustainable culture and a winning program.
“Culture is over time,” Stanton said. “How you take care of your culture is taking care of your environment. We had one philosophy that we lived by every day and that’s walking in excellence and how you win the day. We never had to focus on the wins and losses because the results would take care of themselves.”
Stanton said she would like to continue that culture here in Bloomington. The Hoosiers have had their fair share of struggles in the past few seasons and Stanton is aiming to change that just like she flipped the script at IUPUI.
“I believe Indiana is a sleeping giant,” Stanton said. “I came here because we do want to be a nationally recognized program academically and athletically. Our young women are going to walk in excellence on the ballfield, in the classroom and in the community. We have a blueprint that works, I have a vision for these women and I have an incredible staff who is going to work to put that vision in place.”
Academics have always been important to coach Stanton’s teams. At Marshall, her team went 36 consecutive semesters with a 3.0 GPA or better. Stanton said her type of players need to excel as both students and athletes.
“The person is always greater than the player so we are also looking for the intangibles,” Stanton said. “We are looking for bright and driven young women. On the softball side of things, we are looking for athletes to fit an up-tempo system. They need to have a fast play style and be good at communicating on the field.”
Under the supervision of Stanton, Marshall lead the nation in stolen bases in 2011, 2015 and 2017.
“We are highly going to focus on the fundamentals of the game and teaching them how to play in our system,” Stanton said. “It’s going to be very aggressive and wanting the next 60 feet. You can be a gazelle or a lion. A gazelle kind of gets up and trots along pretty quick, but we want to be a lion. We really want to pounce on things. As athletes, that’s the approach we are going to take.”
Competing in the Big Ten is never easy due to the amount of talented and resourceful schools that inhabit the conference. Stanton said she is confident that her goals here at IU can be reached.
“I would have never left the situation I had if I didn’t believe in IU softball, the people here and my student athletes that I’m going to coach,” Stanton said. “I believe in our ability as coaches to be leaders of these young women. You want to go from a great situation to the best situation possible and for me professionally, this was the best situation and I’m excited to be the leader here of IU softball.”
Stanton’s first move as head coach was to get into contact with her current players. She said this business is all about relationships and she just wanted to reach out as soon as possible to begin building a connection.
“I just wanted to reassure them that this is their experience,” Stanton said. “We want to be able to build up trust because there is going to be a time when the rubber meets the road. I’m going to be pushing them and they are going to have to trust we have their best interest at heart.”
Recruiting has also kept Stanton busy since she arrived at IU. She said her main focus has been on recruiting and that she has already seen over 23 athletes in the past couple of weeks.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Stanton said. “I signed my contract and then it was straight to hitting the recruiting trails. This summer has been a huge recruiting period. The great thing is, when I’m talking to these athletes, I don’t have to sell IU.”
Stanton also added two assistants to her coaching staff. Kendall Fearn and Chanda Bell joined IU’s staff after coaching with Stanton at Marshall.
“I’m a big believer in having a staff that understands how I operate,” Stanton said. “I have a luxury because both Kendall and Chanda were with me the last four years at Marshall. I really believe I have two of the best young coaches in the business. I don’t have to train them, they already know how I tick and operate so all we have to do is hit the ground running.”
Bell is from Indianapolis so Stanton said she believes Bell could help keep some of the top recruits in state due to her familiarity of the area. Stanton also said she thinks coach Fearn is one of the best hitting coaches around.
“The two of them are tremendous role models for our student athletes because they’ve both played at the highest level,” Stanton said. “I’m really excited about the staff we’ve put together and the great thing is we don’t have to waste any time putting our system in place with the athletes.”
Stanton knows her system has potential based on her history, but she claims the past has nothing to do with the future.
“You are only as good as your next pitch,” Stanton said. “I just came off a top-25 season, but that doesn’t matter because we would have had to restart the next season anyways. The only thing that matters is how we can raise our expectations and the culture of excellence. We are going to talk to the players every day about where we are at and where we want to go.”
Stanton hasn’t made any promises of winning a certain amount of games or championships, but she said she does expect a promising future with this program. Stanton said she never puts an expectation on numbers because she feels like you then limit yourself.
“I like to put expectations on things like choices and behaviors,” Stanton said. “We are going to dream big and have some lofty goals, but those are going to be talked about a little bit more loosely. What’s going to be really concrete and evident is our expectations on the way we behave and the choices we make. If you choose excellence, behave in a certain way and operate like a champion, then soon enough you’ll be holding a trophy at the end.”
Stanton played four years at UNC Greensboro where she was part of a winning program that captured two conference titles during her time there. She knows what it takes to win and plans on bringing that winning mindset to IU.
“We aren’t going to cap it or put any limits on what we can do,” Stanton said. “We are going to dream big and when we get to one level, we are going to push on to the next one. That’s why I’m excited about IU. I have a blank canvas here that I can leave my mark on and I really want this to be a significant and relevant program.”
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