All images courtesy of http://www.gofaconsports.com
Pfeiffer head softball coach, Monte Sherrill, has had a name synonymous with winning softball in the state of North Carolina over the last three decades. Prior to coming to Pfeiffer, Coach Sherrill spent the last 26 years coaching high school softball. During this time he amassed a 753-60 record which included a perfect 26 conference championships in his 26 years of coaching. Sherrill also guided 13 teams to the 4A (the highest level in NC) State Championship game, winning it 10 times. In 2014 Coach Sherrill was named MaxPreps High School Coach of the Year and his staff has been named NFCA National Coaching Staff of the Year twice. Sherrill is a member of the NC Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
In the Fall of 2015, Coach Sherrill returned to his Alma Mater, Pfeiffer, where he was a baseball player and had been inducted into Pfeiffer’s Hall of Fame in 2013. In his first season he guided the Falcons to the 2nd seed in the Conference Tournament. In the Conference Tournament, Sherrill guided Pfeiffer to a perfect 4-0 record earning the Falcons a spot in the NCAA Regionals. In the NCAA Regionals Pfeiffer logged the program’s first win, when they defeated Lenoir-Rhyne 4-1. They defeated Lenoir-Rhyne for a second time, in an elimination game, to reach the NCAA Regional Finals against host school Armstrong State. In the final Pfeiffer fell 1-0 to the eventual 3rd place World Series team, Armstrong State.
This season, Coach Sherrill has continued the steady climb and has guided the Falcons to the school’s first ever top 10 ranking in softball coming in at #9 last week in the NFCA polls with a 27-3 record. In Down South’s initial regional ranking Pfeiffer came in at the #3 spot. In the Massey ratings, a computer rating program, Pfeiffer comes in as the the 16 best team out of all 294 DII schools in softball.
The Down South staff reached out to Coach Sherrill about Pfeiffer’s success, below is the Q&A with Coach Sherrill.
Q. This is only your second year at Pfeiffer and already you have developed the softball program into a national powerhouse with a top 10 ranking. What do you attribute your quick success to?
A. The quick success does not come with a quick answer in this case. The foundation was laid during the summer that I was given Jack Ingram field, to restore and rebuild. My Assistant Coach, Marlin Coughenhour, and I brought in over 1,200 tons ( that is correct 2,400,000 pounds)—of gravel, block and brick dust, and a clay/sand mixture to build new batting cages, pitching areas, warning tracks, and level our infield. And that was just the beginning. It got to the point to where both of our wives stood a hard ground against us accessing our own family bank accounts and our friends ran from us because all we talked about was trying to find new ways and funds to keep the renovations going. Literally, laying the groundwork was crucial for me. I wanted our players to see our new program even before they felt it. I wanted them to be excited coming back from the summer break.
I could talk for hours about the new equipment, screens, old-style uniforms and an assortment of material things we have implemented into our program. But rather than point to those things as the change-makers, it simply comes down to the culture of playing a “dirt-bag” style of baseball that would make Pete Rose proud; an accountability factor that every player lives by; and a sense of urgency at practice as though every minute is important. We have a no-nonsense style to our practice and game rhythm. We get down and get dirty every day. We wear traditional “Cramer” eye black. We wear hats and Clemson-style long hang-over-your shoes game pants. We are a team of players who do not have options when it comes to hustle, team focus, esprit de corps, or dedication for the good of the team. We are a throwback team in so many of the traditional ways of play, performance, and mentality, but we are lead from within by individual player empowerment.
Our players govern one another just like it is in the military. Our crew believes that there is a right way to stand for the National anthem just as there is a right way to approach a ground ball. There is a right way to conduct yourself off the field. There is a right way to have a quality at bat. There is a right way to run the bases aggressively as much as there is a right way to use an opportunity to witness for the Lord. There is a right way to do everything every minute of the day. Those cornerstone beliefs are things that we abide and live by.
Our daily practice plan is limited to 3 hours, but I believe our team plan of mentality, culture, and mindset covers all 24 hours of the day. We empower the players by having only one common theme, “Semper Fi.” It gives umbrella-like coverage that applies to every square inch of our program. We are always faithful to God, country, family and in our case, Pfeiffer Softball. That may sound a little crazy when it comes to putting such an importance on softball, but in my world, it’s what I love, live for, and strive to instill in my players. If you think it’s crazy to put such an impact on a sport, stay with me for a minute. One of our players, a bright nursing student at Pfeiffer named Stephanie Fortner, knows that perfection is the only thing accepted with her play. You see Pfeiffer Softball transcends our fence. Is it acceptable to be perfect on the field and imperfect in the hospital room with a critically-ill patient or strive for the ultimate perfection on the field and the correct medical procedure when lives are on the line?
I have former softball players who are now soldiers in war overseas, surgical nurses in traumatic surgeries, and policeman under intense life and death decisions who come back and say that their softball training formed them. It’s the reason they made it through stressful situations they’ve been thrown into. I may coach softball, but our culture and training builds champions.
Q. Your freshman have been a great catalyst for your team this season. Caitlin Christian has been dominate in the circle and while Makenzie Pennell brings the bang at the plate. Why do you feel they have been able to so quickly adjust to the college game.
A. These kids are young and eager to perform and both have an enormous amount of God-given talent. There is no question about that, but I feel there is one thing that separates kids at any higher level of the game… it’s their ability to feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations. That’s where the daily training and our Marine Corps mentality comes into play.
In softball or any situation in life, you feel comfortable when you have earned the right to be successful in that situation. The way that you reach that critical point is when practice becomes harder than the game. The pressure in our program is poured into practice, so our players feel a sense of calmness on game days knowing that they have earned the right to play at an elite level.
Makenzie and Caitlin have performed great for us, but the games are an extension of the training they receive in practice. There is NO situation that they are going to encounter that we have not already prepped for ahead of time. The ultimate question for both of these talented players is how they can continue to fine tune their skill set. Complacency is not tolerated in our program, so I know that the sky’s the limit for these two!
Q. What wins have been the biggest on the season for your squad? Already having played fellow ranked Conference Carolinas #22 Limestone how do you keep your team focused on the rest of the season?
A. Our biggest wins this season are not against an opponent, but against the game itself. Baseball and softball are games built on imperfection, mistakes, and negative consequences. We play every pitch against the first place or the last place team with the exact same intensity. We love the grind of the game. After all, life can be a grind so you better enjoy it too.
We want to play FAST every pitch and every play. We build in errors into our practice so we can recover from the play and make that situation an out on the score sheet. If you practice at max 10 warp speed, then the 9 lightning speed is a breeze performed in the games. Maybe I’m not the normal coach or maybe the Marines changed my way of thinking. But we practice by the saying of what a Marine Officer told me, “The more you sweat in peacetime, the less you bleed in wartime.” We practice hard to avoid that game situation chaos. We do not have a problem with our team being focused. We have issues playing to perfection, but we are continuing to work toward it. We may not come out on top everyday, but it’s not because of focus or lack of effort.
Q. You have already earned the schools first regional win and top 10 ranking. When heading into this season what were the team goals you laid out?
A. I coached high school softball for 26 seasons and I always had one single goal. Win the State Championship, pure and simple. This goal was only possible with a win from every game and that started by winning each inning. We won the out by winning every pitch. I have adapted my style in many ways and softened my approach, from a Marine drill instructor in the 90’s to a relatively highly-motivated Dr. Phil now. At times it has been difficult for me to blend my “old school” approach to this new century style, but I am slowly teaching my old dog self a new trick or two.
I have watched the greats, such as Ralph Weekly at Tennessee, Nick Saban with Alabama Football, Gino Auriemma at UConn Basketball and Phil Maddon at the Cubs; and implemented my own style from their philosophies. My ever-evolving coaching philosophy is rooted in the phrase, “We will give our all for PU Softball today, because we are Pfeiffer, and we are playing in rare air—hungry for a fight.” On the field, we only have one goal: to win each game. Away from the field, we have already built Champions for any situation. Softball is a simple game, but life is not. Hopefully as their leader, I have created a system that builds warriors out of women and makes them confident in their ability to perform on and off of the ball field.
Coach Sherrill and the Pfeiffer Falcon softball team returns to action this weekend for a pair of conference series on the road. Saturday Pfeiffer plays at Lees-McRae and then makes the trip to Tennessee to play King on Sunday. To follow Coach Sherrill and the rest of the Falcon softball team check out www.gofalconsports.com. Pfeiffer is a member of Conference Carolinas and is located in Misenheimer, NC located just north of Charlotte.