Building Again

Windy Thees said she remembers when the Southeastern Conference began taking softball seriously. That was when she was a player – in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"I was playing softball when the SEC really brought softball into all of the different schools here in the South," said Thees, the new head softball coach at Ole Miss who played at Florida State in the mid-1990s. "It's neat to see how it's grown. To be able to coach at an institution with such great history, I'm very excited to be here."

It was her playing days at FSU that helped set the tone for her future as a collegiate coach. Thees was a four-year starter at both catcher and second base at Florida State from 1993-97. She helped lead the Seminoles to three ACC Championships and made the All-ACC Tournament Team twice, including once as a freshman. She was voted the team's Most Inspirational Player all four seasons, and served as a team captain her senior year in 1997.

Thees built the University of Memphis softball program from the ground up. Literally. Now she gets an opportunity to rebuild Ole Miss softball.

For the past six seasons, Thees has led the Tiger program as its first and only head coach. This past season Memphis went 36-14 and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Along the way, the Tigers knocked off eventual NCAA Tournament teams Kentucky and Stanford and reeled off a school-record 10-game winning streak. Now she takes a step up from Conference USA to the Southeastern Conference.

The Rebels have never been a big winner under the previous three head coaches the program has had. They've never been a real threat to the upper level teams in the Southeastern Conference. Thees believes she can help the program make a move up the tough SEC ladder.

Windy Thees
Bruce Newman
"I'm a really positive person," said Thees, joined in a press conference Tuesday by her husband, Michael, twin daughters, Megan Jo and Alexandria, and her parents.

"I've come from places where we haven't had a lot, even when I played at Florida State. Seeing all the things that girls have the opportunity to have here at Ole Miss, it makes it really exciting for me."

As for her philosophy, she said it always starts on the mound.

"The pitcher's the most important spot on the field," she said. "Pitching and defense. I grew up watching the Braves of old, when they had (John) Smoltz and (Tom) Glavine and (Greg) Maddox and Steve Avery. A pitching staff like that can go out and hold people to a very few runs all the time. It's very important in our game to be able to do something like that. If we can hold people down, we can score runs.

"I love scoring runs all different ways. I love stealing bases. I love hit and runs. I love bunting. I love speed. I don't mind home runs – as long as we're not giving them up."

Thees said she tries to prepare her team for each game so that there won't be any slip-ups.

"We're going to win the games we're supposed to win," she said. "We're going to sneak some wins from people who maybe have a little more talent than us. We're going to go in there and I'm going to say (to the opposing coach), what a great team you have. Then we're going to go out there and beat them and find ways to exploit their weaknesses."

She understands the difficulty of competing in the SEC and plans for her program to participate in the postseason.

"Because it's the best softball conference in the country, you've got to get over .500 and you've got to compete in conference and you've got to climb," Thees said. "Once you go to Regionals, I don't have to see another SEC school until Supers. That's our goal, just to climb one day at a time."

Thees, who will soon announce a staff, said she looks forward to getting to know the players already in the Ole Miss program.

"Kids are the same everywhere. Kids want to win," she said. "And when they have lost, they will do everything they can do to win games. If I can sell it to them and they can buy it, we're going to be able to win some games. They have to be able to buy what I'm selling them, and I have to be able to promise them that hey, we're going to make it, win games, and reach the goals we set every year. Winning is just as important to me as it is to them. Together we're going to find a way to win games."

Recruiting is a key to any program, and Thees said the search will be far and wide for talent. She understands Mississippi softball, having been so close to it at Memphis, and had three Mississippians on her Tiger roster this past season – one each from Southaven, Hernando, and Gulfport.

"The biggest struggle Mississippi (high school softball) has is that they still play slow pitch and fast pitch," she said. "A lot of great athletes still choose to play slow pitch, and it's a different game. It really is. When you play both of them, I think your skill set changes to play slow pitch. That really limits how far you've come through the fast pitch season. I'm not going to sit here and make everybody in Mississippi mad and say ‘Just play fast pitch, please.' But it is a very different game.

"The kids out there (in slow pitch), their defensive skills are awesome, because in slow pitch, every ball's going to be put into play. Offensively they might be a little bit farther behind because they have to switch their offensive philosophies from fast pitch to slow pitch. You can find kids here in Mississippi that have great defensive skills, that have speed, that have athletic ability. But the commitment has to be there for them to want to play at the highest level.

"I always say when they get here, it's a blessing. They received a scholarship. It's a gift, it's not a right. And I'm going to get every dime out of them in blood, sweat, and tears."

Thees said she's ready to build a winner at Ole Miss.

"I'm really excited to have this opportunity to coach at Ole Miss, a place I've lived very close to for the last seven years," said Thees, who was head coach at Georgia College, a Division II school, prior to arriving at Memphis. "It's a place I've heard so much about. This program and this University just have so much to offer. The facilities are first class. The administration and the support of athletics and with such a rich tradition, it's just exciting to see all the opportunity here to have a great softball program."

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