"It's like going home," Heather (White) Hupke said of her upcoming return to Storm Lake as Buena Vista University's new head softball coach.
Hupke is currently in her 10th season as the head softball coach at Briar Cliff University in her hometown of Sioux City, but the 1995 Buena Vista alum is excited for this opportunity.
"I got a lot out of my time at BVU. If you truly enjoy your experience somewhere you're going to want to come back to that," Hupke said.
The four years Hupke spent at BVU were some of the most memorable of her life, due in large part to the influence of Marge Willadsen, BVU's 28-year head softball coach. Under Willadsen's guidance, Hupke was a three-time All-American and four-time All-Conference pitcher.
"I looked up to her (Willadsen) as a player. She taught us a ton, not just about softball, but about life," she said.
Hupke has upheld the BVU tradition of a family environment with her current team and will extend her influence to the BVU squad following the conclusion of this year's season. Though she was only in Storm Lake briefly for her interview in December, Hupke left an impression on her future players, whose input was considered by the search committee responsible for filling the position.
"She was our top choice," BVU sophomore second baseman Amanda Mordhorst said. "She was very passionate and you could tell she was really excited to coach."
The team will miss Willadsen, but it seems as though everyone involved was ready for a change. Hupke's focus on staying up-to-date with the evolution of softball will prove invaluable in the increasingly competitive world of hardball. She is looking to implement some new drills and a fresh perspective while holding fast to the values she fell in love with as a player.
"I listened to (Hupke) when she came for Scholarship Day to talk to recruits, and if I was a student I would have wanted to play for her," Willadsen said. "Her enthusiasm and excitement level made me feel really good about leaving this program in her hands."
"You can tell she wants to see good things for our program and she'll work hard," said freshman pitcher Morgan Darrow, an all-stater for Storm Lake last year.
As with all programs the transition between coaches may not be seamless, but Hupke's extensive experience will pave the way to future success. Her name is peppered throughout BVU's record books in categories such as most career strikeouts (525), wins (72), appearances (97), complete games (79), shutouts (30) and innings pitched (602.1). Following graduation from BVU, she coached briefly at Galva-Holstein High School before becoming a graduate assistant at South Dakota State University. She also coached at Washington High School for two seasons prior to her stint with BCU.
"She was such a hard-working student-athlete when she was here I think she'll take that same work ethic and put it into coaching," Willadsen said. "It may take two or three years for her to get her type of athlete here and to be successful, but I fully expect her to get BV back on top of the conference."
Though she already has name-recognition among the BVU community for her feats as an athlete, Hupke is ready to leave her mark on BVU from the other side of the clipboard. She knows it will take some adjusting and a lot of hard work, but she will expect her players to go beyond mediocrity to reach excellence while she pushes herself to do the same.
"I'll have to prove myself," Hupke said. "You have to earn respect, it's not something you can just show up and have."
Following in Willadsen's cleat-prints may prove daunting to some, but Hupke is more than fit for the task.
"People will most definitely be watching - not that you should always be looking over your shoulder - but you need to do a good job and keep the BV tradition going," Hupke said. "You just have to go in and do the best job that you can."