New head coach ready to lead Leopards softball after surprise exit

Caitlyn de la Haba has taken over as head coach of the softball team, following the summer resignation of former softball head coach Jexx Varner.

Varner’s resignation to pursue other other opportunities shocked athletic director Bruce McCutcheon.

“Jexx’s departure comes as surprising news to everyone, myself included,” McCutcheon said to goleopards. “We’re proud of the strides the program made under Jexx’s leadership and grateful for his hard work. We wish him well in the future.”

Among Varner’s strides with the team were the team’s program record .970 fielding percentage and junior shortstop Brooke Wensel’s Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year selection in the 2017 season.

De la Haba said she hopes to improve on last year’s 13-28 overall record. She is preparing for her first season with the Leopards and is excited to see what they can do this season.

“The first step is building some confidence,” de la Haba said. “We want to use our fall and our preseason figuring out what we need to work on and what we need to spend time getting better at. Qualifying for the Patriot League Tournament would be the first step, and then making that a new expectation for the following years.”

De la Haba said she wants to focus on creating a positive environment for the team while still keeping up their academics and increasing their level of competition.

“I want to up our level of play outside of our conference,” she said. “The more we can challenge ourselves in the fall and early in the season, the better it’s going to make us in Patriot League play and hopefully after Patriot League play. The ultimate goal is to just get us overall playing at a higher level.”

Senior outfielder Morgan Biddle said she is excited for their upcoming season and expects improvement due to their new coaching staff.

“She wants us to come in and work hard for her, and she definitely knows what she’s talking about,” Biddle said. “She wants us to keep our academics our number one priority, but also have a social life. She doesn’t want to push us into a ground, she just wants us to work hard for her and I think that’s a breath of fresh air.”

Biddle said she is looking forward to working with de la Haba to improve upon their weaknesses. In previous years, the team’s defensive play has been their strength, but they are looking to have a more well-rounded team this year.

“I’m expecting to improve this year,” Biddle said. “From each year I’ve been here, we’ve gotten better as you can see in our games. We have some good freshmen coming and a great new coach. She’s able to look at a swing and break down what is wrong. I think she is very smart about the sport.”

Senior catcher and outfielder Becca Dvorak said she expects greater team unity in the upcoming year.

“I think our team will be very close this season, which it hasn’t always been, so I’m really excited to see everyone getting together and becoming stronger as a unit,” said senior catcher and outfielder Becca Dvorak.

It will be a new experience for Coach de la Haba, but she is excited to step into her role.

“This is my first head coaching job, so I’m looking forward to figuring out who I am as a head coach but also just building relationships with them for long term,” said de la Haba. “I think creating an environment that they’re proud of and that they want to come back to as alumni is really important.”

De la Haba graduated from Villanova University in 2012, where she was an all-time leader with 75 complete games. In 2014, de la Haba earned her Master’s degree at Lehigh University in Educational Leadership. De la Haba was an assistant coach for the softball team at Lehigh University and then George Mason University. The team will have until next spring to prepare for the season with their new coach.