Norm Beauchemin considered his delicate situation, and could only laugh it off.
How would the new girls’ softball coach at King Philip Regional High handle a program that won consecutive Division 1 state championships in 2010 and 2011, and last season finished 21-3?
“Try,” he said, “to stay out of their way.”
But King Philip hired the former Case High coach to replace longtime boss Jim Leonard so that he could do more than just watch, of course. And therein lies the complicated nature of Beauchemin’s new position.
His aim is to continue the tradition of success at King Philip while introducing his own coaching methods, which are different than what the team is accustomed to.
Warmups have a different feel. Practices have changed. Lines of communication are slowly being worked out.
“There’s some drills that they like to run, and they’re good drills, they’re very comfortable running them, so we run those drills, absolutely,” Beauchemin said. “Then I’ve incorporated the way I run a practice, which they don’t totally agree with, but in the past it’s been very successful for me. So we tweak.
“There’s a little bit of give and take.”
Beauchemin isn’t the only new coach to take over a team with a history of success this season.
Dennis Baker Jr. now has the reins at Hopkinton, one season after the Hillers won the Tri-Valley League title under coach Jeff Kearney .
As the new coach at Hudson, Marybeth Ryan steps in for Steve Martin , who went 18-5 last season, and led his team to a Midland Wachusett League Division B championship.
Each has used the early part of the season to find a balance between what worked for their predecessors, and the styles that made them successful elsewhere in their coaching careers.
Ryan has had a smooth transition thanks in part to her experience coaching many of the Hawks as middle-schoolers. For the last three years, she coached Hudson’s eighth- grade team, instilling the fundamentals and principles that the players carried to the diamond on the varsity squad.
She put her stamp on the Hudson program early: She installed a more up-tempo practice, and has used her experience as a left-handed batter at Holy Cross to transform some of her hitters into lefty slappers. But when it comes to Hudson’s team goals, Ryan said, she isn’t straying from where they’ve been since the Hawks won the Division 2 state title in 2010.
“I’m inheriting a tradition,” she acknowledged. “It’s been good so far. There are some changes I knew I wanted to make in terms of how practice is run. But in terms of the traditions and the expectations we have here, those have all been kept the same,’’ she said. “Once you get a taste of that state championship, you don’t back off from that.”
Baker’s transition has required a great deal more adaptation. It is his first year coaching softball.
After serving as an assistant baseball coach to Scott Soderberg for 11 years, Baker was hired by the Hillers. Soderberg is his assistant.
“We told the girls, you have to bear with us,” Baker said.
“We know the game itself, but a lot of the minor details, there might be some trial and error. We’ll try some things and we’ll be the first to admit when they don’t work, we’re the first to admit that we don’t know everything about this game.
“I think that was good for the girls, we weren’t coming in thinking we knew everything. We were taking input from the girls as to things that worked last year, and what didn’t work.
“We’ll work on things like cutoffs to home,” Baker said. “We tried the baseball way — first basemen and third basemen as the cutoffs — but it just didn’t click with the girls. I’m not sure if they’ve never been taught that. So now we just run our cutoffs home through the pitcher.”
While Baker learns the ins and outs of softball, he has accepted the pressure that comes along with taking over a team that has been among the best in the TVL for years. “It’s just expectations for the program are high, and they should be high,” he said. “It’s a little stressful at times, but it’s a good stress. It doesn’t wear on me. It’s more of a fun challenge.”
King Philip’s coaching switch underscores the changes that have taken place up and down the team’s roster. Eight starters, including the battery combination of pitcher Meghan Rico and catcher Olivia Godin , have graduated, leaving senior captains Anna O’Neill , Tori Constantin, and Breanna Schaffer to figure out their new coach’s system while indoctrinating their young teammates in the Warriors way of doing things.
“It’s very different,” said O’Neill, who participated in the interviewing process as the program searched for its new coach.
“From our previous coach, he would say one thing, we’d do it, we would all know what he needs and understand the purpose of the drill,’’ she said. “Coach Norm being new, he might need to explain what the drill is, what it’s for. It’s a slow process, but now that the season’s going it’s moving along, and I’m sure it’ll get better as we go.”
Despite any early-season miscommunication, Beauchemin and his players have been on the same page about winning. They expect to be the best team in the state come June.
“You get a new coach on board, there’s not two coaches that are identical,” Beauchemin said. “We may be looking for the same thing, but we may try to accomplish it in a different way . . . I know what I’m looking for, and it doesn’t matter how we get there as long as we get there.”Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.