For the third straight season, NC State has finished in the top-half of the ACC standings in softball. The Wolfpack (34-19, 13-8) will face Louisville in its ACC Softball Championship opener on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Rychcik guided NC State to the ACC title in his first season as head coach in 2013 with a, 1-0, triumph over Florida State in Tallahassee. The softball program is in its 12th season with Rychcik in charge for the past three. The Pack has is 105-57-1 during his tenure, including a 42-23 mark in league play. It marks the first time State has posted three straight winning seasons in the conference since the end of the 2007 campaign.
The season before Rychcik arrived from Boston saw NC State finish 23-31 overall and a meager 5-15 in the ACC. The poor record was in spite of fine individual play from then-freshman shortstop Renada Davis, who was named the league’s Freshman of the Year, and Emily Weiman, the ACC Pitcher of the Year the following campaign as a sophomore.
“I think we have made a good name for ourselves,” Rychcik said. “From our expectation, we were immediately expecting to win. I am really pleased with where we are right now as a program and our opportunity. We have got a very good opportunity here to play a long ways into May. That is progress. We know we can. We beat Florida State. We have played those teams and competed. We can compete with those teams and now I think we are better.”
Davis is now the ACC’s all-time leader in home runs, having broke the record earlier in Blacksburg during a conference matchup with Virginia Tech. Now a senior, she vividly remembers the mentality of NC State softball during her freshman season--which went away following Rychcik’s arrival.
“It is crazy to sit back and think about my freshman year,” Davis said. “We finished last in the conference. We came in my sophomore year with a new coaching staff--again, we didn’t have any really big expectations--and the coaches wanted to see what we could give them. We were just open with what the coaches were bringing in. We all really meshed well that year. It has just grown from that.”
Weiman, who was MVP of the ACC Championships and the ACC Pitcher of the Year in 2013--along with being a two-time First Team All-ACC performer--concurs with Davis and is grateful with how things turned out.
“It has been great,” Weiman said. “I honestly couldn’t have landed in a better spot after my freshman year….It has been awesome to change the face of NC State softball. As a freshman it was kind of so-so and then we win a championship and it is that is the new expectation. This is where we [want] to be every single year. A lot of credit goes to our coaching staff.
The metamorphosis into a program that expects success required not only a new coach but also players who were willing to accept change and were eager for success.
While Rychcik did not recruit the current group of seniors, he looked to them--along with the two previous graduating classes--to be the genesis of the change he wanted to implement at NC State. Their reception to change and Rychcik’s willingness to quickly embrace the returning players as his own was a key.
“They are partly mine--they are my orphans I guess,” Rychcik quipped. “I took them in when they didn’t have anything.”
“I asked them to be loyal to me, committed to me and do what I asked. We built this program together. They did it.”
With the graduation of this season’s senior class, the squad will consist only of player brought in by Rychcik. One of the top juniors is third baseman Lana Van Dyken. She has shined not only at the plate but also in the field. The native of Puyallup, Wash. feels it is the succinct yet hands-off approach to his players that brings out their best on the diamond.
“I like the way that he coaches where he sits back and lets us play,” Van Dyken said. “He is not into mind games and putting extra pressure on us when we already have pressure on us from playing in the game.”
Heading into the postseason in 2013, NC State had a burden of proof based on its lack of success and many feeling the Wolfpack were a one-hit wonder after closing the regular season on a high note.
With the ACC Softball Championship approaching on Thursday, along with the opportunity for a third straight NCAA Regional appearance--something NC State has never done--Rychcik has the program looked upon in a higher regard as it prepares to battle Louisville.
“The proof is here, Rychcik said. “I am not just a coach telling [them] they are good. Everybody thinks we are there. I just hope they believe in it and when we get out there we are aggressive.”