When Brenda Volk started her coaching career, she never thought she would coach at the collegiate level.
Luckily for the UW-Whitewater softball program, she thought wrong.
The Warhawks head coach recently celebrated her 600th career win and is in the midst of her 20th season with the team.
“It’s surreal to think that I’ve been here for so long,” she said.
She played for the Warhawks in the early 1990s before becoming the pitching coach in 1992 and eventually taking the head job in 1999.
She has led the Warhawks to seven WIAC tournament championships and has won the tournament the last six years.
Under Volk, the team hasn’t missed the NCAA Division III Tournament since 2012, and her 619 wins are the most of any WIAC coach.
The Warhawks are scheduled to begin NCAA Division III regional tournament play at 11:30 this morning against Benedictine (Ill.). Rain and cold conditions postponed the entire first day of play Friday.
Volk has been a Warhawk since her freshman year of college, something that makes her success somewhat of a blur.
“When I went to school here I remember thinking about all of the successful coaches that have worked here,” Volk said, naming Kris Russell, the late Jim Miller, Dave Vander Meulen and Diane Jones as the coaches she remembers when she was a student.
“It’s just incredible to think about really.”
It’s that culture that makes her proud to be a Warhawk and has kept her at Whitewater for her career.
“I haven’t ever had a desire to go higher into Division I, and I feel like if you are going to be anywhere at Division III, this is one of the best universities to be at.
“I’m pretty laid back,” Volk said of her coaching style. “We expect a lot out of our players, but we don’t have a win-at-all-costs mentality. We want them to be able to relax and have fun because everyone is going to make mistakes, but if you’re out there playing scared it’s going to get worse.”
In Volk’s first year as head coach, her assistant coach, Beth Bonuso, played on the team as a senior. Bonuso has been on Volk’s staff for 17 years and isn’t surprised by the coach’s success.
“I get to see first-hand just how hard she works and how much she cares,” Bonuso said. “She cares about the little things like fundamentals and attitude, and because she is so picky about the little things, it makes the big things work.”
And this year, the big things are working.
The Warhawks led the WIAC in wins and strikeouts and have the lowest ERA, opposing batting average and highest fielding percentage. They also led the conference in fewest doubles, triples, hits and runs allowed.
On offense, they were third in runs scored, hits, RBI and on-base percentage. The team has yet to lose at home, posting a perfect 11-0 record.
The Warhawks hope to still be undefeated at home when the regional concludes. The championship game of the double-elimination tournament is now set for 2:30 p.m. Sunday. If both teams in the finals have one loss after that game, the championship game will be played Monday.
Whitewater has used a balanced attack, one that will need to be potent in the NCAA Tournament.
Ten different Warhawks are batting at least .300, and five different pitchers have started for the team over the year. Freshman Vera Pflugradt leads all batters with a .392 batting average, and senior outfielder Mallory Klotz leads the Warhawks with 41 hits and four homers. Starting pitcher Julie Camardo is 12-5 on the mound with a 1.76 ERA and 102 strikeouts.
“We aren’t relying on one or two superstars and we have been changing the starting lineup all year,” Volk said. “We have such depth with a deep pitching staff, as well as many pinch hitters and runners. We just have some really strong role players.”
Her assistant coach and friend agreed.
“We are going to stick with the process and trust one another because we have been subbing quite a bit this year,” Bonuso said. “They really believe in one another and they know that whoever goes into the game, they are going to get the job done.”
Volk never thought she would be a college coach. But 600 wins later, her assistant said the program will forever be grateful that Volk proved herself wrong all those years ago.
“We are lucky to be a part of this,” Bonuso said. “She is very empowering, and she allows us to operate within our strengths to be the best we can be. All of the accolades and wins are really just a testament to the kind of coach she is.”