HARRISONBURG — At its first team meeting this fall, James Madison’s softball team began discussing its summer reading assignment: Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer’s “Above The Line.”
The main thing the Dukes focused on during that meeting was understanding how to deal with the adversity that would be placed in front of the team this upcoming season. At that moment, no one in that room expected those lessons to be applied a few weeks later.
Mickey Dean, an Elkton native, left his post as JMU’s softball coach to take the same position at Auburn, the schools announced Thursday. In the immediate aftermath of the news, newly minted interim softball coach Loren LaPorte said it was ironic the team had spent a full meeting dedicated to handling situations like the one that unfolded Thursday.
LaPorte specifically highlighted Meyer’s message as the approach JMU needed to take moving forward. The formula teaches that a team’s reaction to the situations it is placed in will ultimately dictate what happens.
Senior pitcher Megan Good, who said she plans on finishing her collegiate career in Harrisonburg, said that resilient mindset is what the team needs to take for the remainder of fall individual workouts.
“We can’t really change things, we can only control what we can control,” the Fort Defiance graduate said. “It just depends on how we respond to this and we just need to use it as motivation to move forward.
“One of the things about ‘Above The Line’ is that we don’t succumb to mediocrity. You’re not average. You try to be the best that you can be in every aspect of your life.”
The title of Meyer’s book derives from the idea that teams need to stay positive no matter the adversity it faces. Senior first baseman Morgan Tolle said that is an important lesson for the Dukes to remember during their individual workouts.
She said she thinks the Dukes can use Dean’s departure as a way to grow and become a stronger team than the one that finished 52-8 last season and lost in the Waco Regional final to Baylor. However, she said that is based on whether the team can continue to stay positive and not dwell on the negative emotions that come with a coaching change of this nature.
“We obviously weren’t expecting it, but we just have to stay positive through it all because our team is a strong team,” Tolle said. “We just need to work on staying above the line because going below the line is going to do nothing but tear us down and make us weak. As long as everybody stays above the line and stays positive about this, we’re just going to come out stronger than we were before.”
The team’s strength did not make the news any easier to digest for the players. Good said she and her teammates were shocked by the news of Dean’s departure because many of them, herself included, considered Dean more than a coach, but also a family member.
However, Tolle said although it stung to see Dean leave, she understood the reasons behind his decisions and thinks most of her teammates do as well.
“Everyone’s hurt, yeah, but it’s something he needs to do,” Tolle said. “College softball is a business. He got a good opportunity and I’m glad he took it. It just sucks that it has to happen, but it’s a better opportunity for him.”
In addition to LaPorte, who has been Dean’s assistant for each of the past eight seasons, his five at JMU and the final three with Radford, Good said it is on JMU’s seniors to help lead the team through this adversity.
Good said she doesn’t think it adds pressure to the seniors’ workload as leaders, but makes their job more important. She said it is critical that the five seniors — Good, Tolle, Alyssa Buddle, Jessica Mrozek and Ashley Samuels — work as one unit instead of as five individuals to help guide the team through this turbulent period.
“I think that us five seniors need to become one, be able to communicate and rely on each other,” Good said. “We can’t function as individuals, we have to work as one unit in order to get through this and really lead this team in the right direction.”