WINDSOR — After winning last season's Class 1A state softball championship, Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg coach Craig Moffett dropped every clichè in the book.
"Enjoy the journey."
"Appreciate each moment."
His players laughed at him from time to time, but that's simply Moffett's personality. The second-year softball coach wasn't used to winning when he took over last season, but that's all the Hatchets have done with him at the helm. WSS fell short of repeating as the Class 1A state champion, losing to Hardin Calhoun in the Springfield (UIS) Super-sectional, but not before it racked up a 34-2-1 record. Moffett is the Herald & Review Area Softball Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season.
“Obviously we had a lot of expectations this year," Moffett said. "Not that I wanted to do everything the same as we did last year. We wanted to be even better and improve on things. But I’m a pretty laid-back guy and try to appreciate each day and each moment and I tried to preach that."
Moffett recognized that it would have been just as easy, at times, to go to practice, roll the softballs onto the field and let the natural talent take over on an experienced team that has had deep postseason runs in both softball and volleyball. But before the season started, Moffett coached junior high softball. It helped him get back to the fundamentals and remember what's important in the game.
Going back to the basics was part of it, but Moffett made sure to stay in the moment and enjoy each of those 34 wins. He leaned on his assistant coaches — Quinn Bennett, Lindsay Floyd and Kate Herder — to help with the day-to-day grind.
“We enjoyed those little things about the game of softball and tried to stay sharp and be as good as we could be," he said.
He still had to manage the expectations laid upon the Hatchets, who brought back nearly their entire roster from the state championship team. Moffett had to fight against complacency and explain the value in each of the wins and the steps along the way.
It's no easy task for someone who entered last season with eight years of baseball coaching experience, but none in softball. As a player at Stewardson-Strasburg, Moffett was on a team that won one regional championship and didn't coach any regional title teams during an eight-year stint at Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond.
“It probably is really hard, but he handled it really well and so does Quinn," senior Megan Schlechte said. "They both are really great coaches and we couldn’t ask for a better coaching staff."
The postseason was new to Moffett, and so was managing expectations. He talked to Central A&M girls basketball coach Tom Dooley about handling pressure, and also about sustaining a program long-term. Moffett emailed coaches statewide who have had success, but whom he didn't know; coaches like Beecher's Kevin Hayhurst and Taylor Ridge Rockridge's John Nelson.
Area coaches recognize Moffett as someone who consistently works to improve his craft. Losing the super-sectional game provided a hard lesson in growth. Moffett has thought back to that game and things he could have done differently either as an in-game manager or in the practices throughout the season.
“I was thinking, man, should I have done more and had some different kinds of practices? But that’s how the game goes sometimes," Moffett said.
While the loss stung, it still helped put things in perspective. He hugged his wife and daughter after the game and went home to a normal life. Then, things went back to going day-by-day.
“Obviously I want to win every game and I want to be competitive and all that," Moffett said. "I have a wife and a daughter. A lot of times at the end of the day you’re just playing a game. It’s not life or death. I try to keep it all in perspective."