2005 Pilot Tribune's All-Area Softball Coach of the Year

Monday, August 15, 2005

James Laughlin is going to miss coaching softball for Laurens-Marathon when late May rolls around next year.

He and his family moved to West Liberty last weekend, where Laughlin will coach and teach in the Solon School District and is wife Cindy will teach at West Liberty.

"We decided to make the change because we're originally from around this part of the state," Laughlin said Thursday in an interview with the Pilot Tribune.

Laughlin coached the Charger softball team for four years, guiding the team to the state tournament twice, including to a second-place in Class 1A in Fort Dodge last week. His 2003 team finished fifth at state.

"I'm going to miss the kids, the staff at the school and the Laurens community," said Laughlin, who will be the assistant boys basketball coach at Solon.

"We had an outstanding run this summer and it was a great experience for myself and the players."

The Chargers finished 27-5 overall and went into the state tournament ranked fifth in Class 1A.

For his steady hand in guiding Laurens-Marathon, Laughlin is the 2005 Pilot Tribune's All-Area Softball Coach of the Year.

Two years ago, most of the Chargers' state tournament were either sophomores or eighth-graders and after winning the 2005 Region title, went to Fort Dodge feeling confident.

"We really started coming together as a team at the state tournament two years ago," Laughlin said. "We beat a couple of tough teams there, and that gave us the confidence that we could play with anybody in the state."

It also helped that the Chargers played in the tough Twin Lakes Conference, winning the 2005 league title with a 13-1 record. The conference's second-place finisher, Southeast Webster, also made the 1A state tournament.

In the post season, L-M opened with easy wins over West Bend Mallard and Rockwell City-Lytton. A key 3-2 win over state-ranked Armstrong-Ringsted in the region semifinals followed, and it was a confidence-booster.

"I'll remember that one for a while," Laughlin said. "We won it in the tenth inning when Jacqulyn (Schmidt) led off with a bunt single, stole second, went to third on Kristi (Brechler's) sacrifice bunt and came home on Bryn (Johnson's) single."

The Chargers beat a talented North Kossuth game 4-0 July 25 in the region finals.

"We played our best softball of the year in those two games up to that point," Laughlin said. "We took a lot of confidence and momentum into the state tournament."

In the first two state tourney wins last week in Fort Dodge, the Chargers took early leads and rode the pitching of Johnson and a standout defense. The team made just one error in a 3-0 win over fourth-ranked Murray and a 5-1 upset of top-ranked Charter-Oak-Ute.

Though Laughlin was pleased with his team's fine performance at state, he didn't put a lot of pressure on his players to win. That's something he tries to avoid.

"I think the most important part of coaching is simply respecting the kids as individuals," he said. "And wins are important, but the real reason for high-school sports is for the kids to have fun.

"Sometimes, we have to remember that these are just youngsters, and softball, basketball or any other sport is just a game. This year, our kids won a lot of games, but it's important to me that they enjoyed the experience.

"And I think they did. They were a very close-knit group. We had something that is just as important as talent, and that's chemistry. This year's team had developed it over the past three years and it took us all the way to second place at state this season."

Laughlin said the members of this summer's team grew through adversity during the 2003 season.

The team's offensive spark in the leadoff spot and defensive ace at short, Jacqulyn Schmidt, missed much of the season but was finally healthy for the post-season.

Johnson was also hurt for part of the season but was ready for the 2003 district-region tourney as well.

"After we got everybody back, we started jelling as a team," he said. "In the last 16 games of that season, we won 15. That was the point when the girls realized they could do some great things."

Laughlin, meanwhile, will continue his coaching career at Solon. It's something that he's always wanted to do after his playing days were over.

He was a four-sport standout in his home town of West Liberty in high school, and went on to Northern Iowa, where he graduated in 2000.

"I just love being around the kids and staying involved in sports," he said. "And I think I'll always have great memories of the four years I coached softball there. It was just a great experience to be part of."

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