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Trio has some big spikes to fill

Severna Park softball coach Meredith McAlister helps supervise practice. She was an assistant to Jeff Shepherd for three years.
Severna Park softball coach Meredith McAlister helps supervise practice. She was an assistant to Jeff Shepherd for three years. (Sun photo by Lloyd Fox)

Imagine the task of trying to replace 691 coaching wins that covered 44 seasons and included six state championships.

That's the case this spring in softball-rich Anne Arundel County, where perennial state powers Glen Burnie, Northeast and Severna Park will be taking the field with new coaches looking to pick up where their predecessors left off.

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The three schools didn't look far to find qualified candidates.

At Glen Burnie, assistant coach Doug Schreiber takes over for Bob Broccolino; Northeast turns to assistant coach Kenny Miller to succeed Marianne Shultz; and at Severna Park, former standout shortstop Meredith McAlister is now in charge after spending three years as an assistant under coach Jeff Shepherd.

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All three new coaches believe the familiarity they have with their teams and the similar philosophies they share with their predecessors will help ease the transition. Still, it will be strange not seeing Broccolino, Shultz and Shepherd giving out signs down the third-base line.

"I think it's very important to have that familiarity," said Schreiber, who split the past eight seasons as the Gophers' junior varsity coach and the varsity assistant to Broccolino. "With the longevity and the success Broc had here, I think the kids coming up, the parents and the community -- everybody is looking for good things and for the success to continue. And if somebody came in completely new from the outside, I can imagine being a kid and thinking: 'Who is this guy? What is he all about?' and 'How's it going to be now?' Yeah, I think it's pretty important."

Aside from the paperwork, the coordinating and the delegating, the biggest adjustment going from an assistant coach to the head coach is having the final say.

"There's added pressure of having that burden on your shoulders. Before, you say what you want to say, but you knew that someone else was there to make the final decision. Now, everything falls into my lap," said Miller, who spent three seasons at Severna Park with Shepherd before spending the past six seasons with Shultz at Northeast.

So when the Eagles have the tying run on first with no outs, will Miller keep the bunt signal on after the batter has a strike on her?

That's what opposing county coaches will be trying to find out.

"That's the unknown," Chesapeake coach Don Ellenberger said. "After a couple years of coaching, you start to learn the tendencies of, not so much the kids, but the different head coaches, because you find them doing certain things in certain situations. You can prepare for that, but will all these new coaches? I don't have a clue. So for the most part, it will be a feeling-out process."

McAlister, a 1999 Severna Park grad who earned All-Metro status, grew up playing softball. She learned the game from her father, Duane, who coached at Severna Park before Shepherd, and had a number of club coaches that guided her. She has taken things from each to define her coaching philosophy. The Falcons bring back 12 players, so the transition has been smooth.

With such a mature team, McAlister is giving some of her more experienced players a say in some decisions, at least early in the season. In other words, if you see the first baseman back and can lay down a bunt, go for it. If you don't feel like you can get a bunt down against this pitcher or struggled a bit on bunts during warm-ups, then hit away.

"I believe that they need to take on a little bit of the leadership and some of the decision-making themselves. So we talk about why we think we should do it this way versus a different way," McAlister said. "I let it play out that way early in the season, and then when crunch time comes later, I'll be telling them more what they'll be doing."

Shultz said the times have changed since she got her first coaching job at Andover High in the early 1990s.

"Back when I started, it wasn't unusual to have a brand new, first-year teacher right out of college jump in and take over a head position. Often now, there's a very good stepping-stone system in place where you have somebody that you can mold and guide," she said.

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Schreiber, Miller and McAlister all agreed that the time spent learning from Broccolino, Shultz and Shepherd was invaluable in preparing for the head positions.

Elsewhere, at C. Milton Wright, former assistant coach Russ Kovach takes over for Joe Dunch, who stepped down after 14 seasons that included one state title and 200-plus wins. Dulaney's Lori Ryan, who led the Lions to their first Baltimore County championship last spring, stepped down, with Dave Barwick taking over.

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