By Ryan Kaczmarski
There will be a new captain of the Pirates’ ship in 2013, as the Rocky River varsity softball team will be led by newly hired head coach Duane Sunagel.
For Sunagel, this is his first varsity head coaching position, but he feels he has gained a wealth of knowledge from his prior coaching experience.
“I have been a varsity assistant softball coach at Midview High School the past three years,” Sunagel said. “Midview head coach Mike Ives trusted me to provide leadership and gave me the responsibility of serving as the third base coach and leading the team in hitting and scoring strategy. I am confident in my coaching experience and knowledge of the game and that it will show on the field and with the players. I have been working with the female student-athlete for over 10 years, and believe I will develop a positive coach-player relationship at Rocky River.
“From 2001-2010, I was the head coach of my travel team, the Elyria SunDogs, in Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA) and National Softball Association (NSA) competition,” he continued. “We won two ASA state championships, two ASA state runner-ups, won three NSA state championships and an Ohio Girls Softball Organization state championship. Competing in the USA/ASA ‘A’ national championships, we finished runner-up to the Tampa Mustangs in 2009 in Las Vegas out of 100-plus teams. We also finished fifth in 2008 in Moline, Ill., out of 100-plus teams and 13th in 2010 in Hemet, Calif., out of 100-plus teams. In NSA play, we finished runner-up and placed third at World Series National Tournaments. In 2003, we won the Super World Series in Peoria, Ill. Our overall record – 397 wins, 87 losses and eight ties.”
Sunagel will have the task of taking his personal coaching style and philosophies and incorporating them into the Pirates program.
“It is my job, and that of the coaching staff, to prepare the team to compete and to experience success,” he stated. “We will become a disciplined team in every aspect of the game. We are going to work on putting the ball in play to make things happen and force the other team to play defense.
“Bunting will be an area that we will need to work on, and we will bunt a lot,” Sunagel added. “We will be aggressive, but smart on the bases. Our pitchers will need to reduce walks, and our defense will be prepared for situations, early in the game and late in the game. We are going to put a lot on the players and expect them to respond to the style we play.”
Sunagel feels that he is at a point in his life where it is the time for him to be a varsity head coach.
“In the past I did not have the time necessary to devote to being a head coach,” he said. “I am now in a position to commit the time. I had opportunities to interview at three other schools, but once I met with (Rocky River athletic director) Mark Wagner and other people associated with Rocky River High School and the softball program, I felt it was the right place for me. Mr. Wagner’s desire is to improve the program, and the girls are starved for a winning program. I am going to provide energy, enthusiasm and my coaching experience to improve the program and put the program in a position to be successful.”
Sunagel has recruited one of his former players, Megan Bashak, to fill the varsity assistant coach role.
“Megan played on my travel team, the Elyria SunDogs,” he said. “Megan is a former All-Ohio player from Elyria High School and recently ended a four-year playing career at Cleveland State University. Megan is still attending classes at CSU. She will work with the pitchers and catchers.
“In the near future, we will fill the junior varsity and middle school coaching positions.”
The Pirates have not been very successful in recent times, and Sunagel plans on changing that this spring.
“I met with the team a couple of weeks ago, and I think they know things are going to be different,” he said. “The girls are in a conditioning program right now and working to become a better-conditioned and stronger athlete and softball player. We need to have a better turnout and get more girls interested in playing softball at Rocky River.
“The girls were 3-20 last year, and the junior varsity team did not win a game in 2012,” Sunagel added. “I expect us to compete and for us to experience more success in 2013. We have a lot of work to do to improve the program, but there will be a point that it happens.”
Not only does he want to turn around the Pirates as an overall organization, he also hopes to give the girls in his program the opportunity to move on and play softball in college, if they choose to pursue a scholarship.
“I take pride in that over 20 girls that played for me on the SunDogs have received softball scholarships to further their education and playing career at the collegiate level,” he said. “I hope that at Rocky River, we can assist those student-athletes that have the ability to continue at the next level.”