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New softball coach Matt Marshall building ‘something special’ at Tomball

April 15, 2019

Matthew Marshall entered the 2018-19 school year as a first-year softball head coach and teacher at Tomball.

Originally hired as a softball and basketball coach, Marshall wanted to volunteer as a hitting coach for the softball team since that’s what he had been doing for 20 years — hitting and coaching baseball and softball teams of various levels and personal training.

After former head coach Billy Noonan announced he accepted the position of head football coach at St. Pius X, Marshall saw an opportunity.

“I just threw my name in the hat and let them know that I was interested, that it was a good fit for the school and that I’d love to be a part of it,” Marshall said. “I know their tradition.”

Marshall, who’s also the D-Line coach, recognized that the softball program had been successful in years past and wanted to continue that trend.

“They were nice enough to give me the opportunity, so it kind of happened pretty abruptly,” Marshall said. “A couple of weeks before the season started actually.”

By late March, Tomball (14-15, 7-7) had already surpassed a lot of the totals from last year that they amassed through the whole season.

Now the Lady Cougars find themselves in the thick of things in District 20-5A, battling Huntsville for a playoff spot.

With an 11-1 win over New Caney, April 12, the Lady Cougars reached .500 and need to win out and hope that the Hornets lose their games.

Tomball was scheduled to host Porter, April 16, and visit Willis, April 18, to close the regular season while Huntsville visits Lake Creek and hosts Kingwood Park.

“That’s not something that these girls are used to and so it’s been fun because they’re actually in the playoff hunt and there’s meaning behind every game,” Marshall said. “Pretty nice improvement from last year in district but we still have work to finish.”

Fresh start, same determination

The Lady Cougars placed outside the top four last year at 3-11 and were on the cusp of the playoffs two years ago, finishing fifth. Tomball hasn’t made the postseason since 2016 and claimed the district title in 2014.

Lake Creek, Willis and Kingwood Park make up the top three in 20-5A. None of the Lady Cougars know what it’s like to be in the playoffs.

“It’s exciting to see them learn about themselves, about their talent and about their character and see something they hadn’t tapped into before because they weren’t in that situation before,” Marshall said.

When Marshall replaced Noonan, the team was challenged to adjust.

“It was very unexpected; they didn’t see it coming,” Marshall said. “It wasn’t something they were prepared for.”

For some of the players, Marshall is their third coach in as many years.

“They’ve had a lot of change, one every year,” Marshall said. “It was probably pretty uncomfortable for them, in fact I know it was for the first couple of weeks because they didn’t know me…I feel like we’ve grown together as a team and we’ve seen how each other works.”

Marshall believes there’s a lot of untapped potential in the program.

“There’s something special once they put it all together and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Marshall said. “It’s a good time to be a Coog.”

Cream of the crop

One positive moving forward is that the Lady Cougars have less than five seniors.

They include Katie Ellington, who returned to the team in her last year before moving on to medical school.

“She’s on to bigger and brighter things,” Marshall said. “She came back and said I want to give this another shot and, the girls on the team, I let them decide. They said yea, if it helps the team let’s let it happen.”

There’s also centerfielder Carly Croston, No. 1 pitcher Jeryn Cook and Britney Fritz.

“She’s (Croston) the leader, been super awesome about being open minded and doing whatever she can to help the team,” Marshall said. “She’s (Cook) pretty much pitching every inning of every game for us, she’s our work horse. She’s doing a bang up job and giving it everything she has and never once do you have to question where her heart is or her character.”

Marshall looks forward to the returning underclassmen.

Junior shortstop Imani Edwards, committed to Tulsa as a sophomore.

“She’s one of those special athletes that coaches love to have on their team,” Marshall said. “She wants to learn, wants to get better, wants to help others and she’s just a good natural leader. The girls follow her lead and they listen to what she has to say because they know that she’s passionate and knows her stuff.”

Sophomore Amanda Skivington is the third baseman and leads the team in home runs. There’s also Emily Redden, Taylor Spexarth, Catie Boyd, Farrin Weinert, Kylle Huey and Celeste Finch, amongst others.

“She (Skivington) hits the ball a ton, she’s smart, comes from a baseball/softball family,” Marshall said. “

More than just a team

The first thing Marshall wanted the players to know when he arrived was that he cares about them as individuals.

“They’re not just a piece of the puzzle,” Marshall said. “They’re actual people that we care about as student athletes first. When they know that we care about them as people then they’re more opted to buy in, know that when we’re saying something its coming from a good place. Even if it’s something they don’t want to hear.”

Marshall also values accountability.

“If something happens just own it and once you own it, its fine,” Marshall said. “Because then you’re going to learn from it, we’re going to learn as a team and we’re all going to get better.”

Win or lose, Marshall wants his team to grow as athletes and as individuals.

“We’re trying to prepare them not only for the future on the diamond but also in life,” Marshall said. “Letting them know that them as people is the top priority, tying to coach them up in both aspects.

“It’s a great time to be Tomball Cougar, the future is very bright. We’ve got a lot of big things ahead and it’s going to be a fun ride, so strap on your seatbelts.”

alvaro.montano@chron.com