By: Jamie Tritschler, Athletic Communications Intern
This week's Coaches Corner features Penn State Brandywine Softball Coach, Mark Caserta. Coach Caserta was named the PSUAC Coach of the Year in 2015 and 2016 and his team looks to win its third-straight championship at the PSUAC Tournament this weekend.
JT: How many years have you been coaching? And how many of those have been at Penn State Brandywine?
MC: For softball, it's been 15 years and this is my fourth year at Penn State Brandywine.
JT: How did you get into coaching?
MC: I originally was coaching baseball when I was done playing and then in 2004-2005, I got into coaching with my daughter. She was playing for the Philadelphia Spirit after high school so I started helping out and ever since then, I've been doing softball.
JT: How did you get the opportunity at Penn State Brandywine?
MC: Well, I was coaching at Bishop McDevitt High School for about three years and then I was at Archbishop Carroll High School up near Villanova for five years. I saw the opening in the paper that they [Penn State Brandywine] were starting a new program and I figured, 'let me take a shot.' So I sent my resume in, got interviewed and I got the job. I've been here ever since.
JT: The softball team is headed to the PSUAC Tournament for the third year in a row. For a new coach and a new program that's incredible. What has it taken for the team to get there?
MC: I'm a perfectionist when it comes to trying to build a team and trying to win. You're always looking for great kids to bring in and the winning will take care of itself. I knew it was a great opportunity for me, you know, it was a new program so I wanted to be the guy that set the standard and it's kind of working out for me pretty good.
The first year I had gotten interviewed late in the year as far as softball goes. I didn't get interviewed until January and they wanted to have a team that year. I said to the athletic director at the time, "there's no way we can build a team on time for the season. I don't even have time to recruit." And he said, "we have to put a team on the field." So I grabbed six basketball players and I had five kids in the school that I grabbed and we wound up getting the sixth and final playoff spot. We won one game in the playoffs and that was pretty exciting and then we got eliminated. But the following year, I knew that I had a whole season of recruiting.
The recruiting part is the most important part. I'm looking for great kids who are going to excel in the classroom, first and foremost, and who have a passion for softball. The one good thing that the athletic director at the time said was that he would never fire me for wins or losses, just as long as I bring in good kids who are going to graduate. I said to him "look that's all fine and dandy, but I'm going to win, too!"
We've been fortunate; once you start a winning culture you know, these girls are no dummies who are playing softball today. It's very competitive out there and they know exactly what kind of school they're looking into and who they want to play for. They see this team - it's a young organization that just won a championship - and they know this would be a good opportunity for them. The recruiting part I probably enjoy more than anything because you get a chance to meet the kids and meet their families and you get a chance to see what kind of kids you're bringing in. It's a sole reflection of you. The difference between high school and college [coaching] is that in high school, you got what you were dealt. In college, you get to choose your kids and that's the great thing about the recruiting part that I really enjoy; I recruit my 'you-know-what' off. I'm at every tournament; I'll go from New Jersey to Delaware to Montgomery County; I've been to Virginia and Maryland; I've been to New York; I go all over the place. It's the best part of the job. It's a good atmosphere. I'm hoping I can just continue it and keep on winning games for the school.
JT: Has the recruiting been one of the main contributors to how successful the team has been in the last three years?
MC: Let's put it this way: I know talent. I can see talent. And it's definitely the sole reason. Obviously you have to bring in good players. I don't always look for the superstar type of kid, I look for the kid who wants to be a team player, who is going to buy into what you're trying to tell them about the program and what you expect of them. Every coach wants that stud player, that great shortstop or that big home run hitter that's going to hit 10 home runs. Everyone wants those types of kids but they don't always win championships for you. I'm looking for the really, really high character type of kids and that has been successful for me. I have a good feel when I recruit. I let the kids see my personality; I'm very aggressive when I recruit. I go right up to the kids; I talk to their parents; I let them see my personality and how much passion I have for the school and for softball. The thing with these girls playing softball today is that it doesn't matter who they are or how good they are, if they don't like that coach they aren't going to go to that school. You can have a great program, but if they don't like the coach they are going to go somewhere else.
It's just been a lot of fun and to me this isn't a job, this is something you have a passion for. I enjoy coaching and I've been doing it for a long time. I think it's going to continue to work and hopefully we can become Division III and it'll get a little tougher because the competition will get a little tougher. That's all a part of the deal. We're hoping that we can keep this run going and we have a really strong team again this year. We've only lost two games in the last two years in the conference overall, and we're 15-1 this year in our conference again. I make sure we play all strong non-conference teams to get us ready for our conference. A lot of the teams in our conference don't play the non-conference schedule that we play. The same thing when we go to Florida - we play all good Division III teams. Even my players will tell me sometimes, "Coach what are playing all these good teams for?" And I say, "Are you kidding me with that statement? That's why we're going to be in the championship - because you're playing good competition that's going to prepare you for our conference!" I don't like to schedule a lot of so-called "cupcake" teams because it doesn't do us any good to beat teams 25-0 and 16-1. It doesn't prepare you for the season. The only way to do it is to play the best competition out there. We're just looking to continue to win and to bring that trophy home every year. That's what it's all about.
JT: What would you say are some of the strengths of the team?
MC: The strength of our team is definitely our pitching. You can never have enough pitching. Pitching and defense. I tell my kids all the time it's not about who can hit the ball the furthest or who can throw the ball the fastest; it's about good defense, being smart and being aggressive. Great defense and great pitching are going to win the games. It's our strength. We're also very athletic. We have timely hitting too. We have some girls who can pop a ball out every once in a while, but I have all solid team players and that's the main thing. We have good speed; we have some power and it's a good mix, but you never have enough of everything. You never know what can happen, you know there's injuries, girls can get sick, or stuff happens with classes. We've been fortunate that the girls are excelling as well in class. This past year, we had 11 of 13 girls on the roster make academic all-conference which is great for us.
JT: What is on the to-do list of things to focus on and prepare for as you head into the PSUAC tournament?
MC: The kids that come to our school already know that we've been in the conference championship for the past two years and they know that they're going to compete and that they are most likely going to be in the playoffs. They don't want to be that group that doesn't win the championship. We're trying to win our third in a row now and they kind of know what to expect. They know when I recruit them that nothing is a guarantee and none of them are guaranteed to be starters. They have to earn everything and work hard. I tell them it's a two-way street when it comes to respect; you respect me and I'll respect you. Come in here, work hard and everything will happen. They know what to expect these girls today. It's really competitive. They know what they have to do and they look forward to coming to a new program and being the girls that can get their names in the record books. They come in with the attitude knowing that they are going to work hard and they're going to give our team every opportunity to get to the championship each and every year. They know they're going to compete every year and that's what's in their mind and that's what I try to feed them and we just take it from there.
JT: Let's talk about Julia Allman as she is you're only senior player this year.
MC: Julia Allman is from Marple Newtown. She's been my captain since her freshman year; I recruited her. She's leaving us this year and I can't say enough good things about Julia. She's the smallest player on our team; we call her "Mighty Mouse" because she's a pack of dynamite. She's been great since she first came as a freshman. I had her at center field, had her at shortstop; I had to play her everywhere. We didn't have the right mix yet in my first year and then by her sophomore year, I started to put her at second base and she's been there ever since. She's been batting second in the lineup and she's never moved out of the lineup. The kid's there every day. She's been a captain for four years and she's just a great leader. She's very vocal, and when you see her it's like, 'wow the smallest kid on your team is the captain,' but everybody loves and respects Julia. She's just a great, great kid and she will be missed, believe me. I'm hoping we can get one more for her so she can get three out of four championships while being here.
JT: How do you begin to fill the void that someone like Julia leaves behind?
MC: You're always recruiting a year or two ahead of time. You're always looking to build for the future and know what I need. I have three infielders coming in next year out of my five recruits. Three are middle infielders so there's going to be good competition for someone to fill her role. We will definitely have another solid player at second base because second base is very, very important. I have all the confidence in the world that the girls I'm bringing in next year can do just as well as Julia did. You have to feel that way. You always have to be recruiting ahead of time. Next year, coming in my catcher is going to be a senior, my other catcher is leaving for University Park after these last two years because of her major, so this year my focus is going to be finding a couple catchers. You always look for pitchers, catchers and good athletes. You know as a coach what you need to fill each and every year. You have to recruit ahead of time.
JT: Do you see any of the underclassmen trying to step up into her leadership role as the season comes to an end?
MC: Yes, I have a few kids in mind that could probably be good captains. I always had three captains, but this year I wasn't sure who my other two captains were going to be and it kind of slipped away. I never got back to it. And I wanted to see how everything went when we went to Florida and I never made any other captains other than Julia. Now that I have a whole season under my belt I kind of know who my other captains are going to be next year. I didn't want to say anything in the middle of the year; we were doing so good that I figured we would just let it be. We definitely have people who can fill her shoes. I have a lot of good freshman in and they're all good kids. They hustle and they are dedicated. These kids, to go to school and come to practice every day and some have part time jobs - I give them all the credit in the world.
JT: What advice do you have for any prospective Penn State Brandywine softball player?
MC: The thing that I sell when I'm looking for girls is to tell them about our school. We have the largest alumni network in the country and you're coming to our school as a student first and foremost, and then an athlete second. We're looking for great students. When you get a Penn State degree, your future is going to be in pretty good shape. Our tuition is reasonable, you're going to play winning softball and probably compete for the conference championship every year and if that's something you want to do, then Penn State Brandywine is a place for you. I don't recruit just local; I recruit all over. I try and tell them you're going to play winning softball; you're going to play in a Penn State uniform. That's the main thing. You graduate with a Penn State degree and play winning softball, what more could you want? It's a win-win situation. The girls gravitate towards Penn State, towards that lion. It's known all over the world and I tell them that. It's working for us.