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Hatting inspiring excellence during first year

St. Olaf softball has started its season red hot, posting an impressive 5-3 record and taking four of its five victories by a margin of seven runs or more. Kayla Hatting, in her first season as the head coach, has been a major contributor to this turnaround, implementing several new strategies and motivational philosophies that have had a positive impact on the players and team culture. Under Hatting, St. Olaf is looking like a true contender in the MIAC, a far cry from its 8-14 final record in conference a year ago.

Hatting has played softball all her life and became a prominent player at Luther College during her undergraduate studies. Transitioning from her natural position of shortstop in high school, she quickly became an all-region catcher, earning four letters and helping the Norse to four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

Following her athletic success, Hatting transitioned yet again, this time to the role of mentor. As the outfielder and catcher coach at Division II Augustana University, she helped instruct the Vikings to a NCAA super regional placement in 2015, posting a record of 53-11, Augustana’s best overall mark since 2000.

With her years of experience at several different collegiate levels, Hatting finds coaching Division III athletes to be particularly rewarding because they have a drive to succeed that stems from a pure love of the game. The athletes aren’t playing for money – there are no scholarships, so the program emphasizes selflessness and teamwork rather than individualism and statistics. Before the season began, Hatting brought her new Ole team together to discuss why they play softball, and the conversation became an important bonding moment that united the players and the coaches. This team mentality is crucial for Hatting’s coaching philosophy.

Trying to maintain a consistent practice schedule has presented a challenge, but Hatting has used her passion and flexibility to overcome these obstacles. Between sharing spaces with other teams and the challenge of finding time for a cohesive meeting, each practice is a test in endurance and adaptability. Practices usually last about two hours a day, but with such limited opportunities for practice time, they can extend well into the three-hour range.

However, in the spirit of a Division III athletic climate, the players have adjusted accordingly with minimal complaints, a virtue that Hatting cites as a key reason why a school like St. Olaf is such a special place to coach. She understands that her team is comprised of full-time students, and she is acutely aware of the time and effort the players put towards softball while balancing their schedules to accommodate studying and leisure.

“I knew I wanted to be at a Division III school where the young women can focus primarily on academics, but where softball comes at a close second,” Hatting says. “We focus on excellence in literally everything we do, classroom and softball.”

This demand for excellence pertains to even the most fundamental mechanics of softball, from catching the ball to even setting down gloves and helmets. Working towards perfection, Hatting doesn’t have her players move on until every detail is correct. This strict eye for detail can be decisive in a game of inches like softball.

The Oles have responded positively to Hatting’s intensity, practicing with minimal complaints while maintaining an encouraging atmosphere. Even though the team is relatively small, containing a mere 15 players, each athlete possesses a strong work ethic and demonstrates self-motivation and tenacity. Hatting admires this enduring attitude among her players, citing their love for the game as a significant factor in the team’s determination.

Equally impressive is the fact that the Oles are managing this work ethic despite being a very young team, which inspires optimism for the near future. Thirteen players are currently underclassmen with the potential to become stars, eager to learn new things and gain valuable experience.

“The sky is the limit for this group because of their work ethic and willingness to adapt,” Hatting said. “They have a great mentality and give 100 percent in all they do.”

Hatting cited her previous career achievements as strong influences in her coaching mentality. Both Luther and Augustana experienced tremendous success during her tenures with each organization. Naturally, she has high expectations for the Oles and encourages the team to try its hardest at all times.

Hatting is confident that the team will continue improving and put together a great season thanks to its positive attitude and impressive work ethic. She is even optimistic that this team has a realistic chance of making the playoffs, if not winning the MIAC. Her determination and the team’s eagerness for improvement is an effective combination that should cause the Oles’ conference rivals to take note. Under its new head coach and with a newfound winning attitude, St. Olaf softball is quickly becoming the one of the most exciting teams to watch this spring.