Q&A with new UM head softball coach

The new leader of Ole Miss softball is already at work. Bill Bunting of Ole Miss athletics media relations talks with Missy Dickerson as her first school year in Oxford approaches.

On June 27, the Ole Miss athletics department made a bold statement for the future of its softball program, hiring Missy Dickerson from Texas A&M - Corpus Christi as the third head coach in the history of the program.

Dickerson entered the coaching ranks following an outstanding playing career with the UCLA Bruins, helping lead UCLA to a three-peat in national championships as Dickerson was named All-Pac 10 three times and earned an All-America selection her senior season.

Since her playing days, Dickerson has continued to coach, helping turn around every program she has come into contact with as a coach. She now turns her eyes towards Ole Miss and the Southeastern Conference with the goal of making the Rebels a contender and major player on the conference and national level.

The following interview gives a glimpse into the new direction for Ole Miss softball, and what the fans of fast-pitch softball and Ole Miss can expect to see in the future.

Q: Talk about your coaching philosophy. What can we expect to see from a Missy Dickerson coached team?

A: Well, first off you need a combination of kids with different abilities to get on base. You need your power hitters to score the runs. This season, we'll obviously work with the tools we have at our disposal. We'll take the tools we've got and do what we can with them in the spring. My ideal team is to be a combination threat. We need speed, bunters and slappers. I don't believe you have to go for the long ball, but if we have a kid who has that ability, that's great. I'm big on fundamentals on offense and defense. I come from a philosophy that if you can't bunt, then you can't win ballgames. Power hitters aren't as effective if people can't get on base before them.

Defensively I expect to make plays. We want to use this fall to go through every scenario with our defense, so the kids don't have to think when we get to a live game in the spring. I don't want the athletes to have to think, I want them to be able to react and make the play.

Q: Can you talk a bit about what you see with the Ole Miss Rebels as you enter your first season at the helm of the program?

A: The pitching at Ole Miss has been solid, but hitting seems to have been the main problem. Our job this fall is to focus on the hitting and make these kids hitters. We'll be aggressive at the plate and in the field. Hopefully this team will take on the personality of the head coach. We want to be tough and no-nonsense and do whatever it takes to make the play and win ballgames. It's a motto of anyone, anywhere, anytime. That's the sort of toughness we want to see in our team.

Q: So you sound like you want the fall to be the main focus of preparation coming into the season?

A: Fall is the time to get kids to believe what you want to do as a program and what we believe in as a team. It makes the job easier in the spring if you can get the kids to buy into things early in the fall.

Q: Talk about the new facility and what that can do to help with building the program?

A: The improvements to the facility will allow us to be more in line with what the rest of the Southeastern Conference has to offer. Our facility will be outstanding. It will give us the opportunity to host the Southeastern Conference Tournament and bid to host Regional play in the future.

Q: You mention the SEC and its facilities. Can you give your view of playing in the SEC and what that does for a program building like Ole Miss?

A: The Southeastern Conference, over the past few years, has made amazing strides becoming competitive on the national level with programs like Alabama, Tennessee, LSU and Georgia. Playing in the SEC gives us a competitive field that most conferences don't enjoy. We're looking forward to playing in the SEC and the challenge of developing this program into a conference power. Some might say it's a double-edged sword, but I really look at it as an opportunity to go after a high quality of athlete. It allows Ole Miss and our staff a great chance to quickly change the direction of the program. We can use the SEC and its success as we recruit to help us build this program.

Q: Talk about coming from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and the new challenges that you will face at Ole Miss after turning the Islanders into a competitive program.

A: Some of the challenges we face at Ole Miss are the lack of consistent success. We want to try to encourage our athletes to hold the perception that we can make a change for the better here. Coaching-wise, we know we can come in and have an immediate impact on these kids because they are searching for something new. We want to change the mindset of people across the state of Mississippi, the conference and the nation about what Ole Miss Softball is all about. That's the biggest challenge.

Q: You mention changing perceptions around the state of fast-pitch softball at Ole Miss. How does the perception of fast-pitch as a whole in the state impact a program on the collegiate level?

A: Mississippi to me is a lot like Oklahoma has been. Both states have competed in both slow-pitch and fast-pitch softball. It took an increase in success by the state schools to increase awareness of the sport in the public. If we can continue to improve, and as much as Ole Miss fans will hate to hear it, if Mississippi State and Southern Miss field solid teams, that will encourage programs across the state and the kids playing the sport to improve. That will in turn strengthen our fan base across Mississippi. Kids in Texas grow up wanting to play for Texas or Texas A&M or schools like that. It's a dream with those young women. We want to go after the home grown kids before we look outside of the state. But until the sport grows in interest to a level like Texas, you have to take kids wherever you can find them. We know we have a lot of Ole Miss fans out there, but we want them to be fans of fast-pitch softball as well as Rebel fans. We want the fans on the local and state level to support us as we build and help this program.

Q: One of the things that helps build that support and showcases the talent on the field is the recent change to a split series with Mississippi State. Can you talk about how playing a home-and-home with a third neutral game in Jackson affects the program?

A: I am a fan of the split series. It gives our fans and others a chance to see us play and showcase the sport. It's especially valuable that it's in a great city like Jackson. That's a big fan-base where more people can be exposed to the sport and see their team play. Splitting the series like this gives our fans a chance to come out and support us when they might not get a chance to come to Oxford. It's especially nice when you can play a game like this with your in-state rival.

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