Centenary Softball Coach Recognized for Accomplishments
Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Links associated with this release:
Shreveport Times Article


Coach Montgomery

SHREVEPORT—Centenary softball coach Mark Montgomery and the accomplishments of his program over the last several years where highlighted in a recent article by Jimmy Watson of the Shreveport Times. The article appeared as the feature story on the sports section of the March 15 edition and elaborates on how Montgomery has been able to jumpstart the Ladies softball team into a perennial Mid-Con title contender and a two-time NCAA Tournament participant.

 

The full article is provided below. A link has also been provided above to the article on the Shreveport Times website.

 

Big man on campus

Centenary softball coach helps set winning standard

 By Jimmy Watson (Shreveport Times, March 15, 2006)

 

Mark Montgomery thought long and hard about whether or not to accept the Centenary softball job four years ago when then-athletic director David Bedard came calling.

Montgomery talked to friends in the business about the job and the feedback wasn't exactly positive.

 

"Because they were independent and because they had a history of not being successful in the program, several coaching peers advised me against taking the job at Centenary," Montgomery said. "Their comment was, 'You cannot win there.' I've been more than happy to prove them wrong."

Boy has he.

It took the Kentucky native a year to start bringing in his own players and instilling a coaching philosophy of success into the Ladies program, but once the school entered the Mid-Continent Conference in 2003, Montgomery's girls began taking off.

No program in the history of Centenary, the smallest and the oldest private liberal arts college west of the Mississippi, had ever advanced to an NCAA Tournament until the Ladies won the 2004 Mid-Con tourney and advanced to Tucson, Ariz.

Although it was a short, two-and-out visit, the Ladies liked it so well that they repeated the NCAA tourney trip last year, advancing to College Station, Texas, where they lost to both Penn State and McNeese State.

But the Ladies' softball success has been a model that no other program at the school has been able to match to date.

"I've said all along, since we got in the Mid-Con, that the two sports that we should really excel at are softball and baseball," Centenary athletic director Taylor Moore said. "Year in and year out we have geographic advantages down here, especially in softball, because we don't have to go up against Oral Roberts like we do in baseball. It's given us the chance to really do something special."

For junior outfielder Micah Rhodes, one of the top players in the South, coming to Centenary was an easy choice. Underrecruited as a high school senior, Rhodes wanted to play Division I softball.

"That was the deciding factor," said Rhodes, currently batting .438 despite the Ladies' tough early season schedule. "I didn't have a clue about where to go coming out of high school, but I wanted to play D-I and Centenary fit my personality perfectly."

The Beginning

When Montgomery took over the struggling Ladies program on Aug. 20, 2002, his first order of business was to get the players he inherited to believe they had a chance to win.

"That's a balancing act," Montgomery said. "It's playing teams that you should be able to beat and teams that are beatable, but constantly trying to upgrade the schedule. I think we've done a good job of balancing confidence along with challenges."

The second step was to determine a recruiting base in conjunction with the type program that could be successful in the Mid-Con. Should the team be based on speed, power, or a combination of the two?

"I'm of the belief that I'm never going to get the pitcher who can strike out 20 a game, so I won't even try," Montgomery said. "I'll try to get a pitcher to pitch location and get hitters to hit balls that we can play good defense behind. You have to establish that kind of philosophy."

Hidden Gems

It's one thing to set your recruiting philosophy, but it's another to recruit quality athletes to fill those needs. Especially since the Centenary softball program was 75-233 in the five years before Montgomery took over, including an 8-52 mark in 2000.

"It wasn't easy at first. We had to look under some rocks and in some obscure places that a lot of other people that you're recruiting against won't look," Montgomery said. "I'll go watch some East Texas softball where the overall scheme of softball might not be what it is in Houston. Yet, the same player or two might be able to go to Houston and be a big-time player."

One such find was Rhodes, who played at Grapevine High School and only received offers from junior colleges and Division III schools despite setting school records for home runs, triples, doubles and walks.

"I played on a very average ASA team, which is probably why I didn't get many looks," Rhodes said. "Coach Montgomery came to watch another player, saw me and talked to me after the game.

"I didn't even know where Centenary was, but my dad thought that it was in Louisiana. Once coach told me about the program and I came for a visit, I was sold."

Rhodes was selected as the Mid-Con Newcomer of the Year during her freshman season after leading the Ladies with a .348 average. She made the All-Mid-Con first team last year with a .318 mark while leading the team in home runs with six.

Centenary Hook

Montgomery doesn't have a lot of scholarship money, the top-flight facilities or the multiple coaching staff numbers that many schools use to attract top-flight athletes. So he must be creative when he brings in recruits.

He can tout the academic prowess of the school, the small class sizes and the success of his program. He can sell the beauty of the Centenary campus and some of the benefits of living in Shreveport.

"I'd like to say that we have to beat them (recruits) off with a stick," said a chuckling Montgomery. "It's certainly helped that we're getting more media attention with our success and people look at us as kind of an interesting little program."

The team's fan base has been growing steadily and a fraternity now has a heckling stand just outside the left field wall.

"When we came back to school in the fall people were still congratulating us about making the NCAAs," Rhodes said. "Our professors and random people have been very supportive. Having that group out there in left field has been fun."

And Montgomery says the support of the Centenary community has been satisfying.

"Certain coaches, like Rob Flaska and Ed McCann, have made a point of coming by and congratulating us on big wins," Montgomery said. "It's flattering when another coach comes by and asks us how we're doing it."

The Next Step

Even though the Ladies have won consecutive Mid-Con tournament titles, they have yet to finish first in the league's regular season. And they're picked to finish behind Southern Utah this season. They're also looking for their first NCAA Tournament victory after losing all four NCAA games.

"We're trying to grow Centenary into a mid-major power in softball -- trying to get to the point where no Top 20 program wants to play us, because we're likely to beat them," Montgomery said. "I want Centenary to be the Gonzaga of women's softball."