New Oakleaf softball coach set to push to next level

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 6/16/21

OAKLEAF – Oakleaf High softball has maintained a high standard of excellence for a long time under coaches Christina Thompson (2017 state champions and a No. 1 rank in USA) and Tony Voiro, who took …

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New Oakleaf softball coach set to push to next level

Posted

OAKLEAF – Oakleaf High softball has maintained a high standard of excellence for a long time under coaches Christina Thompson (2017 state champions and a No. 1 rank in USA) and Tony Voiro, who took the Lady Knights to a one-run, extra innings loss in the region finals to the eventually unbeaten state champions this year. Voiro left to be part of a baseball academy in the area as a hitting coach.

Now, the next phase of Oakleaf softball will go to a collegiate powerhouse coach set to push the high-skill Lady Knights to a bigger and better place.

“I know all about the rich tradition of winning and excellence here,” said Heather Han, 34, a state runnerup catcher out of McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Indiana and a collegiate player for Eastern Michigan University; the Eagles. “A couple of my friends saw the opening and they also said the sun was out a lot down here.”

Han’s plan seemed simple.

“I’m excited to be able to take them to the next level; either a champion or in the state running,” said Han, who lamented that her college region playoff games were almost always against the very tough University of Michigan teams and that her McCutcheon High School team finished as state runnerup.”We fell just short my senior year so I’m itching to get a pretty ring here.”

One interesting playing experience that Oakleaf High girls probably cannot relate to is playing in snow.

“We played a couple of games with ice on our cleats especially in college,” said Han. “It makes you a bit tougher especially as a catcher taking pitches in 32 degrees.”

Han’s most memorable moment was two doubles in the region playoff against Michigan against Nikki Nimitz.

“Freshman game against Notre Dame I could not catch a foul play in windy conditions to save my life,” said Han, noting that as her worst game experience. “It was very frustrating.”

Han was aware of the 3 p.m. thunderstorms as part of the Florida daily summer day.

“I will turn like a tomatoe in the sun, but then tan out,” said Han. “Warm rain always better than snowstorms.”

Han’s Eastern Michigan team won the MAC conference in her sophomore season, but the regions always faced off with the Wolverines.

“We never got out of regions because of Michigan being there,” said Han. “They were about five minutes down the road.”

Han finished up and coached in five states; Eastern Michigan, University of Illinois-Chicago under Olympian Michelle Ventarella, North Illinois for three years and Mercer College in Georgia.

“I was at a junior high school head coach last year,” said Han. “It went well. A lot of the kids had never picked up a softball so it was a learning and teaching experience for both of us.”

Han plans on bringing hands-on experience on exactly how the college game works though Oakleaf High now has a handful of NCAA Division I players in the ranks from Thompson’s tutelage; Baylee Goddard and Katie Kistler at University of Florida; Alex Acevedo at Syracuse; Rebecca Koskey at University of North Florida, and, most recently, Jaeda McFarland, a Big 12 Freshman of the Year for the University of Maryland.

“I hope I can bring my own collegiate experiences into the dugout to give the girls a bit of what to expect at that level,” said Han. “After our first week of practices and the weight room, I think they bought into that I was bringing a college-level game plan to them.”

Han noted that her first two weeks of summer conditioning and practices have been heavily filled with roster players.

“I’ve been told that the numbers we are getting out here so far are higher than ever and that’s a good sign,” said Han. “The team seems to be wanting to work hard. They are ready to win.”

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