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MX News Update 2024


Young softball coaches bring enthusiasm to programs, but also face several challenges

Less than a year away from graduating, Mariah Dunbar had no intention of becoming a high school head coach.

But then came a unique opportunity to lead her own high school softball program.

Dunbar, 22, is the new head softball coach at Madison Area Memorial High School. She is one of two young softball coaches looking to make an impact in central Maine this spring. Carrabec head coach Bailey Dunphy, 24, is the other.

“I was definitely looking forward to doing my job the first year and getting that under my belt, and (later) maybe getting a coaching job,” said Dunbar, a second-grade teacher at Madison Elementary School. “It was definitely worth applying and getting. I’m really looking forward to this year. I love the girls, they work very hard. It’s definitely a good first year.”

Dunbar graduated from the University of Maine at Augusta last spring. Dunphy is a 2021 graduate of Thomas College.

“Softball has been kind of on the back burner in this area, so this season was all about bringing it back into the spotlight,” Dunphy said. “Getting the younger kids excited, getting the veterans excited. Just enjoy yourself on the field. I love softball and I want to show everyone how much fun it can be.

Players from both teams say it is easy to communicate with young coaches because they are recognizable.

“It’s a lot different than what we’ve had in the past,” Madison pitcher Kylee Furbush said. “But I think it’s good to have a younger coach because we can identify more with Dunbar. She has a lot of experience with softball. She can give us tips. It was great to have her as a coach.”

“(Dunphy is) a younger coach and she definitely understands what we need to get better, so that’s beneficial,” added senior midfielder and captain Riley Crocker. “She takes the time to focus on each position and how we can really improve ourselves at each position. She doesn’t just focus on one (team) member, she really understands what the Carrabec team needs.”

Coaches in all sports face different types of challenges every season.

Those challenges, athletic directors say, are magnified for young and inexperienced coaches like Dunphy and Dunbar.

“Varsity coaches have a lot of things that are expected of them,” said Madison Athletic Director Al Veneziano, who previously coached the school’s girls basketball and softball teams for decades. “They have deadlines for paperwork. We have things that need to be reported to the Maine Principles (Association). They must provide all this information to the athletic director. (They must ensure) that uniforms are distributed and fitted. Then you have to be organized with the (sports) fundraising that we do and make sure that the children want to come out and do the fundraising and do that little bit extra. From what I can tell, (Dunbar) is very structured in that and very mature for her age.”

Veneziano, a member of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame, added that earning the respect of the team’s seniors, who are close in age to Dunbar, can also be a challenge.

“For someone her age (the hurdle) is that she is almost the same age as our seniors,” Veneziano said. “I think that might be a bit of an obstacle. But she seems to have that respect from them and lets them play hard. She really overcame that hurdle. I think the younger players see the older players and lose their edge a little bit and have that respect.

“The biggest hurdle you have (as a young coach) is these curveballs that are thrown at you that you didn’t see coming,” added Carrabec athletic director Erik Carey, who has 30 years of coaching experience and also coaches the school’s boys basketball. and baseball teams. “Sometimes you have to deal with different personalities. The strange dynamics of dealing with teenage athletes. Even at 30, you’ll come across one you haven’t seen before. The more you coach, the more you can anticipate those things before they even happen. I think that can happen to any young coach.”

Dunbar takes over a program that reached the Class C title game from 2013-2019 and won four Gold Gloves. Last season, former head coach Chris LeBlanc – who is also the school’s assistant principal and athletic director – resigned due to a medical issue. Assistant coach Heath Cowan took over for the remainder of the season. Madison finished 9-8 in a rebuilding year.

The Bulldogs are 3-4 this season.

“A lot of girls have dug deep to get the wins we’ve had so far,” said Dunbar, who helped lead the Skowhegan softball team to the 2019 Class A North title. “Staying together, understanding all the ups and downs of the game, I think that’s very impressive for the first year. And hard work. The focus has been much better.”

New Madison softball coach Mariah Dunbar demonstrates field positioning and technique during a practice April 30 in Madison. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Dunbar also has help in the dugout.

Heath Cowan has one more season on Madison’s staff. Cowan, the head coach of the UMA women’s basketball program, was recently named the new UMA softball head coach. The program will debut in the fall.

“Mariah has always been a competitor, and some of the things you have to deal with as a coach are things you don’t have to deal with as a player,” Cowan said. “I’ve always said the Xs and Os part is the easy part. It is the rules of the Maine Principals’ Association, the parents, who deal with the school. That’s the longevity part. They are doing great, they know the game. But the ones who stick to it are the ones who can deal with reporters, deal with officials, deal with parents. I think Mariah feels very strongly about it. I think Dunphy does too. Both are super competitive. It’s fun (to see).”

Cowan has a unique link with both coaches. He was the head coach of the Carrabec softball team in 2018, Dunphy’s senior season.

Dunphy is one of the most decorated softball players in Carrabec history. She was a two-time Mountain Valley Conference Player of the Year for the Cobras. Dunphy started 85 of her 86 games for Thomas from 2019-2022 (the 2020 season was not played due to the coronavirus pandemic. She finished with a .486 batting average, four home runs and 67 RBIs.

Dunphy got into coaching right out of college and coached high school softball before taking over the Carrabec program. Now in Class D, the Cobras are 3-3.

Like Dunbar, Dunphy also leans on the help of her assistant coaches, including her father, Troy Dunphy, a former Carrabec baseball head coach. Bailey Dunphy said she is still learning to juggle the variety of responsibilities that come with life as a high school coach.

“I’m so focused on softball that I sometimes forget the human aspect of the game,Dunphy said. “You can have a great practice plan drawn up and then get a text message that says, ‘Hey coach, I’m not going to be there, my ankle is messed up.’

“I think working with the players has almost been a learning curve. In every team you are part of, you have a new group of people. New relationships must be created. I don’t want to say that’s a hurdle, but that’s just something that at the beginning of each season you just have to form those relationships and make it work for you and the program.

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