Softball: Lake Station’s Linda Llewellyn is P-T Coach of the Year
By Steve T. Gorches 648-3141 or email@example.com June 26, 2012 11:18PM
Post-Tribune softball coach of the year Linda Llewellyn of Lake Station. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:04AM
It’s one thing for a coach to add to a successful program’s winning tradition, or to take a team deeper into the postseason than ever before.
But it’s a whole different world for a coach trying to change the culture at a school that’s become accustomed to losing — in many sports, and sometimes at a historic level.
That’s the task Linda Llewellyn had in front of her two years ago when she took over the Lake Station softball head coaching position.
“I used to coach all-star teams in Lowell with Pete Iussig and he was one of the guys I called when I got this job,” the Lowell High School graduate said.
“I was thinking, ‘What am I getting myself into?’ I was a little scared and nervous since I had never coached high school softball (she was an assistant at Purdue). So I asked him if he could give me some advice, and he said the first thing you need to do is surround yourself with some good assistant coaches. And I think we’ve been lucky, not just with the coaches I have, but with the parents, too.”
But that was just the start. Attitudes had to be changed. Losing could not be tolerated anymore.
“What’s always frustrated me as a coach here (she also coaches volleyball and has coached girls basketball) is the kids have this belief that they’re not supposed to win,” she said. “They didn’t win for a long time. They didn’t win a game for several years. It was almost like cleaning house. When you’re coaching a varsity sport, your job is to win. It’s not to make everybody happy and play everybody.”
No sense of entitlement, no senior favoritism. Llewellyn wanted kids who believed they could win.
“Attitude is a big thing with me,” she said. “I get really upset when kids aren’t respectful to their teammates or coaches or the opponent. That’s how I was raised. It took a while, but they understood if they don’t do this, they won’t be here.”
That first year on the job, Llewellyn’s Eagles got beat by 10 runs or more a lot, invoking the mercy rule and resulting in several short games. Last year, they got 10-runned seven times. This year, it was just one — the last one, which was a regional loss to Rochester.
But the loss came after 18 wins and the program’s first sectional title since 2002, earning Llewellyn the Post-Tribune Coach of the Year honor.
“Two or three years ago that program was dead — nothing there,” said Wheeler coach Marc Bruner, whose team lost to Lake Station in the sectional semifinal.
“We were watching them warm up the year we won state (2010) and my assistant said it was different this year. Last year they beat us (2-1) and to see the improvement this year ... obviously you want to win it, but to see what they did makes the loss easier. You can tell the things they’re emphasizing fundamentally. They never stopped playing in our games against them. She keeps coaching in losses and wins, whether they’re up big or down big.”
Maybe the biggest example of the new attitude Llewellyn instilled into the Eagles was the second victory over Whiting at home in conference play. Lake Station was up 1-0 going into the sixth inning. The Oilers score twice in the top of the sixth to take the lead after a couple errors.
Instead of crawling back into their shells and reverting to that losing mentality, they came back with two in the bottom of the sixth to win the game 3-2.
“That’s something we don’t normally do,” Llewellyn said. “I’m still trying to figure out what we did this season. To me, it’s still a shock. But it wasn’t like any turning point. It was little building blocks.”
It started with losing to South Central 1-0 on a run in the bottom of the seventh inning of the first game. Llewellyn said she saw the potential in that game and the belief and confidence from the kids just grew from there.
The sense of accomplishment might have been close to the same if the Eagles hadn’t won a sectional, had maybe finished 17-10 without a title. But to have that trophy makes the change in attitude and change in culture complete — at least for the softball team.
Llewellyn hopes to be able to carry it over to volleyball in the fall.