Softball staff credits contrasting styles to success

UNA head coach Ashley Cozart (left) and assistant coach Whitney Hawkins discuss a pitching strategy during the 2016 Division II Softball Championship final against Humboldt State. The two received the NFCA coaching staff of the year award for Division II June 6.

by Managing Editor Mike Ezekiel

Coming off a national championship victory in 2016, UNA head coach Ashley Cozart and assistant coach Whitney Hawkins received the National Fast-Pitch Association 2016 Division II Coaching Staff of the Year Award June 6 based on their team’s success.

After finishing a dream season with a 60-7 record, multiple individual honors, a conference championship and winning the Division II College World Series, the two coaches went back to work almost immediately, preparing for 2017.

“I probably enjoyed (the national championship) for about a week or two weeks,” Cozart said. “It’s something that we will always remember, and it will always be a part of us. But every year, we have to get back on the recruiting trail and get better. We can’t just settle just because we won it. We have to get back to work, which is what we’re doing.”

The two, who have been together for only two years, described their coaching relationship with the adage “opposites attract.” While they do not always see eye to eye every time, both coaches agreed bringing a different perspective is healthy.

“I think it’s great to disagree,” Cozart said. “I think every girl out here has different styles. Some might gravitate toward me because I’m more loving, and some might gravitate to her because she more, ‘I love you, but we have to do this to get better.’ The different styles work for us.”

During the 2016 season, UNA lead the nation in hits with 645 and homeruns with 90. The Lions also ranked in the top 10 nationally in multiple categories under Cozart’s and Hawkins’ leadership.

Cozart enters the 2017 season with a 136-39 career record at UNA through her first three years.

While the head coach usually gets most of the glory or backlash if the team wins or loses, the assistant coach plays just as big of a role, Cozart said.

“I had to rely on (Hawkins) a lot,” Cozart said. “I don’t know anything about pitching, so she completely ran with that. It’s so tough to call pitches. There are so many things you have to look into and so many charts you have to do. I think people take for granted that side of things.”

Hawkins was a standout pitcher at Alabama-Huntsville, leading the Chargers to the 2009 Division II national championship final and earning multiple All-Gulf South Conference and All-South Region honors. Before coming to UNA as a full-time assistant, she spent three seasons as a student coach at UAH.

Hawkins, who just completed her second season as the Lions’ pitching coach, said the first year was not so easy, but once the two coaches learned each other’s tendencies, they became a dynamic duo.

“You come into a job not knowing what (a head coach) is going to be like,” she said. “Last year was our ‘getting to know each other’ time. She didn’t know how I was, and I didn’t know how she was. I think we took each other wrong a little bit sometimes.

“But then this year, we knew exactly how each other was. We just meshed so well, and I really fell like we are a good match.”

Although the two have different personality types, the players can agree as a whole both coaches brought an unmatchable chemistry, said senior first baseman Brooklynn Clark.

“I enjoy Cozart and Hawkins so much because they are so laid back and let us have fun,” Clark said. “But at the same time, they know when to get down to business. They are genuinely good people both on and off the field.”