When Stacey Stepek took over the Hampshire softball program last year, her goal was to change the culture with the belief wins would follow.
The Whip-Purs bought into Stepek’s vision, and in her second season as head coach, Hampshire flourished. They put together a 21-14 record – 10 more wins than last season – and earned a share of the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division title, the Whip-Purs’ first conference or division title since 1981.
“Coming into this year I knew we were going to be relatively young again,” Stepek said. “Any time you have half of your team being seniors and the other half pretty much being freshmen/sophomores, you never know how they’re going to respond and adjust. It seemed to click this year.”
Senior shortstop Sara Finn said the difference this season was noticeable and praised Stepek for getting them to compete better as a team. Finn also credited Stepek for helping her improve her mechanics as well as getting her into softball camps and a showcase.
“There’s more spirit and wanting to play and wanting to be there,” Finn said. “It was really nice to play for her. She’s a great coach and a great person overall. I’m glad I could play my last two seasons for her. I don’t think I would be where I am right now without her.”
Hampshire’s turnaround didn’t go unnoticed by opposing coaches, either. Jacobs’ Jeremy Bauer, whose Golden Eagles got an up-close look at Hampshire in a late-season loss, was impressed by how Stepek got her team to buy into her plan.
“Day in and day out when you read in the paper about how remarkably better they are than they’ve been in the past, it has a lot to do with the players, but it also has a lot to do with [Stepek] putting them in the right position,” Bauer said. “She did her homework and put in a great effort.”
Stepek makes sure to hammer home the fundamentals every practice and works with every player to try to improve their game. She also has worked to implement year-round softball for her program while also wanting to get girls playing softball at a younger age in Hampshire to better prepare them.
But perhaps most importantly, Stepek got her players to believe they were capable of competing against – and beating – some of the best teams, giving the Whip-Purs the confidence needed to bring home their first conference title in 33 years.
“You could see their confidence building, and you could see them believing more in themselves and the culture that we are building this year coming over from last year,” Stepek said. “Even though we have a smaller school and only two levels to build from, I think that the ones who really want to play and have the heart are the ones who are coming out and putting in the work. It’s exciting to see.”