It’s always nice when your team can win the season opener, whether it’s at home or on the road.
This year, however, the Lady Indians first game of the season represented something much more than just another win.
In fact, the victory over the Louisiana Lady Bulldogs on Aug. 29 was Head Coach Trudy Bull’s 200th career victory.
Bull’s 200th win could have easily occurred last season, but when the Lady Indians lost sectionals she ended the year with just 199 wins.
Thus, she knew that the first win of the 2013 season would be her 200th, she just didn’t know when that first win would occur.
“The wins are great but it’s really about these kids,” said Bull. “People will probably say that sounds cheesy but it isn’t. It’s the truth. When I can sit down and cut up with these kids or they come to me for help with a problem, that’s what’s important to me.”
Bull, who was awarded a plaque commemorating her 200 career wins before the start of the Oct. 2 home game, went to high school in Elsberry and has lived here her entire life.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have softball here when I was growing up,” said Bull. “I had to play volleyball instead.”
Bull initially got involved in coaching when her daughter was little.
“I coached her all the way through, and we also did some traveling ball as well,” said Bull. “I even coached some soccer when she was little.”
Bull’s introduction to coaching high school softball would come a little bit later, however, and quite by accident.
“I started coaching high school ball in 1999,” said Bull. “I was supposed to be Coach Creech’s assistant but he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore. They called me and asked if I wanted to do it.”
Bull was hesitant at first but decided to give it a shot.
“I had been a catcher in college,” said Bull. “I knew the game, but I hadn’t ever coached before so it was a real learning experience.”
Over the years Bull has been blessed with a number of winning teams and winning seasons.
“We’ve had a pretty successful program here and I’ve had a lot of kids play for me and then go on to be successful at the next level,” said Bull. “That isn’t a reflection on me. It has everything to do with the kids themselves. That’s simply the hand I was dealt. My biggest moment was making it to the quarterfinals in 2003. I had a good group of girls that year.”
Some of Bull’s most successful players were quick to give credit where credit was due.
“Coach Bull is a great coach and she always knows the right thing to do,” said Senior Becca Almus, who has volunteered to stay on through the summer and work with some of the younger pitchers. “She puts the interests of the team first and she is always trying to go out and win.”
“Playing for Coach Bull has been a great experience,” added Senior Kaity Grills. “She has been there to push me since I was a freshman. She’s definitely not a laid back coach. She tells you what you are doing wrong, but she never forgets to tell you what you are doing right either.”
Lady Indians Assistant Coach Hector Bencomo said that the secret to Bull’s success is really no secret at all.
“She coaches to win,” said Bencomo. “At the end of the day, she simply wants to win softball games. Year in and year out she figures out a way to bring the team together. There are some years where she has a lot of talent to work with and other years where she doesn’t, but she manages to put things together the right way when it counts.”
Bull acknowledged that winning is a big motivator for her, but insisted that she is just as interested in the little things.
“Winning is important but it’s the day-to-day stuff that I think you remember more than anything,” said Bull. “To be honest some of my best times have been had when I wasn’t necessarily having a winning season.”
Bull added that her coaching philosophy is simply to teach students the game and then turn them loose and let them go out there and have fun playing it.
To illustrate her point, Bull drew on one of her favorite coaching memories.
“I can remember one year when we didn’t have such a great record and we were playing in the Elsberry Tournament,” said Bull. “We all went down to Cadillac Bill’s for lunch and he had a fake mustache machine. Everyone bought one, even the coaching staff. Then we all came back and played the tournament. We took consolation but we had a good time. We only had 8 or 9 wins that year, but it’s those types of memories that stand out to me.”
Now that she has reached 200 career wins, Bull said she has a ‘wait and see’ attitude toward the next phase of her coaching tenure.
“I’m just taking things as they come,” said Bull. “When you’re coaching high school ball you never know what you’re going to have from year to year.”
Sadly, Bull will face next season minus senior starters Almus, Brittni Hagemeier, Grills, Felicia Pruitt, Brea Johnson and Cailee Vitro.
“Losing my six starters is going to be huge,” said Bull. “That’s not to say, however, that I don’t still have some quality players left.”
Bencomo said he has faced rebuilding years before and is not in the least bit intimidated.
“If we have to start over from scratch next year then we have to start over from scratch next year,” said Bencomo. “I’m no stranger to that.”
Bull said the key to staying competitive next season lies in maintaining a good pitching staff after Almus and Pruitt are gone.
“We’ve got to come up with some pitching,” said Bull. “There’s a good group of eighth grade girls coming up, but we also need to recruit more players and get more kids interested in softball around here.”
One of the underclassmen that Bull hopes to see step up is Junior Centerfielder Tanner Bencomo, who finds that she responds well to Bull’s coaching style.
“Coach Bull is very straight forward, but it’s good to play for a coach like that because she will tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong and what you need to do in order to improve,” said Bencomo. “You need that to be successful. You need to be able to learn from your mistakes and you get that opportunity playing for Coach Bull.”
Fortunately for Elsberry, Bull has no plans to take her unique and successful coaching style elsewhere.
“I’m just going to keep coaching here until it doesn’t feel right or until it’s just no fun,” said Bull. “When I get to the point where I’m not a benefit to the girls anymore and I think the program needs some new blood, then I’ll know it’s time to go.”
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