New coach brings experience to softball program

First-year softball coach Donovan Nelson comes to a fledgling program at Tabor with a long and successful background as a player.

Nelson grew up playing fast-pitch softball in northwest Missouri, a place where the sport is king. He played catcher for an area team that made numerous trips to the national tournament and won the title in 1992 and finished third in 1996.

Can a person who has tasted success at that level find happiness leading a program that two years ago couldn’t field enough players to make a team and last year struggled to win?

Nelson believes he can. After five years as a student assistant coach at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa, Nelson said he was ready for a head coaching position. He was hired at Tabor in part because of an opening for an athletic trainer as well as a head softball coach.

“I’m excited to be here and I’m ready and willing to go to work,” Nelson said.

All he knew about the program at Tabor before he arrived was the tough experiences of the last two seasons. The team he has inherited, though off to an 0-7 start before spring break, has impressed him in at least one key area.

“I’ve been pleased with their desire and ability to learn the game,” he said. “It’s all about learning.”

That means spending more practice time on fundamentals than he would like to. But building basic skills will be paramount for any future success, he said.

“Most of the players we have just haven’t had the kind of playing experience that most college players do,” he said. “Where I come from, girls play 50 to 60 games every summer as well as playing in high school.”

He said he has spent a lot of time helping the women learn to throw with power and develop a consistent swing that can enable them to hit with power, too.

One of the toughest thing Nelson wants to teach his players is game instincts-to be naturally aggressive on the base paths and to see and react appropriately in various game situations.”

“It’s almost impossible to teach instinct,” Nelson said. “But these girls are eager to learn and that’s a great advantage.”

Nelson has 13 players on this year’s squad, with a good mix of solid returnees and fresh talent.

Jennie Ewertt returns to the mound as the Bluejays’ primary pitcher. Also returning are Misty Collins at third, Shelby Griffith at second base and Iva Werth at first base.

Two new faces will help solidify the infield. Sara Janzen, a freshman from Hillsboro, has won the starting role at shortstop and another Hillsboro product, sophomore Kara Chisholm, is taking over the catcher’s spot after transferring Friends University.

“I consider the catcher to be the coach on the field, so Kara has a key role on the team,” Nelson said. “She’s learning how to make the calls on the field to get her players in the right position at the right times.

“If the catcher is the coach on the field, the shortstop is the assistant coach,” he added. “Sara is doing a good job for us at that position and has a strong arm.”

In addition to its desire to learn, the team’s biggest strength is the power in their swings and their above-average defensive skills. The latter will improve even more once players learn to refocus quickly after committing an error in the field.

Inexperience will be Tabor’s biggest weakness.

“They just don’t have the background in softball that you usually find at the college level,” Nelson said. “But I expect us to grow stronger as the season progresses.”

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