2022 THE Spring Games

Grand Valley State Hopes To Make 50th Season A Golden One

Grand Valley State Hopes To Make 50th Season A Golden One

The Lakers were a unanimous preseason favorite to win the GLIAC conference, earning all seven first-place votes.

Feb 23, 2022 by Stephen Kerr
Grand Valley State Hopes To Make 50th Season A Golden One

There aren’t many comparisons that can be drawn between the automotive industry and the coaching profession, unless you are fortunate enough to have worked in both.

Before joining the Grand Valley State University softball coaching staff in 2001, head coach Dana Callihan spent seven years as a quality engineer and training coordinator with several automotive manufacturing companies in Michigan. Her primary responsibilities included problem-solving, communicating as a liaison between management and production personnel, and training workers on maintaining quality standards.

During that period, softball was never far from her mind. Callihan, a four-year letterwinning catcher at GVSU from 1989-92, played fastpitch, slow pitch and baseball. When her former coach, Doug ‘Doc’ Woods, offered her an assistant coaching position on his staff, she didn’t have to think twice. Her experience in the auto industry played a vital role in preparing her to coach young softball players.

“It gave me the opportunity to communicate and learn different skills of dealing with people of all different backgrounds,” explained Callihan, who is in her eighth season as the second full-time head softball coach in the 50-year history of the program. 

“From a coaching standpoint you recruit a player, you bring them on the team, you watch them and see how they handle things. But you don’t know a whole lot about them until you get them here. It opened my eyes up to be able to connect with a lot of different people.”

That training has paid big dividends for Callihan. The Lakers have captured four straight Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) regular season titles and three consecutive GLIAC Tournament championships. Callihan has a 261-80 overall record and a 127-30 mark in conference play. She has won GLIAC Coach of the Year honors each of the last four seasons, and guided the team to three Division II Women’s College World Series appearances (2016, 2019 and 2021).

Callihan learned other important aspects of coaching while playing and assisting under Woods including patience, connectivity with players and what to look for in recruits. In her 13 seasons as an assistant, Callihan had numerous opportunities to coach at other programs, but had no desire to leave the place she had once called home as a player.

“Being an alum of Grand Valley, that was something special for me to be able to coach here again,” Callihan said. 

“The other thing was I had a young child (son Zachary) who was in school, so I didn’t want to leave the area.”

Togetherness is a big part of the Lakers’ culture, as represented by their motto, “Together We Will”. Each year, players concentrate on specific morals and values chosen as a team.

“The biggest thing here is the culture that we have,” redshirt junior catcher Morgan Wagner said. 

“That’s a really important thing when you’re choosing whether you’re going to a college in the future or playing softball. Culture is really important for me and the people you’re surrounding yourself with.”

Wagner leads a Laker lineup that returns seven starters from a team that went deep into the WCWS in 2021 before bowing to defending and eventual national champion Augustana. Wagner started in 44 of the 45 games she played and recorded 33 hits, including four doubles, 19 RBI and nine runs scored.

This season, the Coloma, Michigan native will be calling games for a pitching staff loaded with depth and experience. Redshirt junior Hannah Beatus returns as the ace after leading the nation with 28 complete games, ranking third in wins (25), fourth in games started (30), and 11th in strikeouts (205). Hannah Dieck, Genesis Eggart, Samantha Gehrls and Ashley Platek are also returning.

“Some of our pitchers may not have as much playing experience as a few others, but they’re getting the same training and knowledge, and they work together as a staff extremely well,” Callihan said. “I’m definitely happy and fired up about where our pitching staff is.”

Wagner isn’t the only experienced catcher. Paige Ligocki and Janalee Lyke return, while freshman Liberti Fair provides additional depth.

Two-time First-Team All-GLIAC shortstop Lydia Goble is back to lead an infield that also returns redshirt senior second baseman Taylor Rieger and reigning GLIAC Freshman of the Year Megan Koenigshof at third. 

Goble, a redshirt junior, ranked second on the team and in the conference with 41 RBI while batting .366 with seven home runs last season. She played basketball and softball at Schoolcraft (Michigan) High School, where she earned All-Conference and All-District honors in softball each of her first three seasons. Despite her success, she was not highly recruited. But she was drawn to Callihan and the Grand Valley state campus after attending a camp.

“I thought the campus itself was beautiful,” recalled Goble, who was named to the NFCA All-Midwest Region Second Team as a freshman after hitting .361 with a team-best 66 RBI. 

“(Coach Callihan) and I had some conversations, I met some of the players, and she was one of the first schools to offer so I jumped at the opportunity.”

The outfield is seven-deep, led by senior Bailey Thatcher, junior leadoff hitter Joanna Cirrincione, and sophomores Hannah Hollister, Emma Loveland, and Kaitlin Lynch. Transfer Alexis McCullough and freshman Jaye Guichelaar give Callihan plenty of options.

The biggest question heading into this season is who can fill the void at first base left by the departure of Nikoma Holmen, the GLIAC Player of the Year and unanimous all-region selection. Holmen ranked fifth in the nation last season in both hits and RBI. Kelsey Komorous, a freshman from Northville, Michigan, will start the season at the position.

“She’s a natural left-hander,” Callihan said of Komorous. “She’s got really nice hands at first base. That’s the position she’s played all along, and she’s stepping into that role right now.”

Teams often develop character by coming through when the chips are down, and the Lakers are no exception. In last season’s College World Series, they trailed 1-0 to West Chester in the seventh inning of an elimination game. It looked as if GVSU’s season would soon come to an end. But with one out and Cirrincione on first, Rieger ripped a double into right-center, scoring the tying run. The Lakers went on to put five more runs on the board that inning for a 6-1 victory.

The comeback came as no surprise to Callihan or any of the other players. It was simply another example of their “Together We Will” mentality. 

“All throughout the season, we were able to come from behind,” explained Rieger, who started all 55 games at second base with a .296 average, four homers and 31 RBI. 

“If we were behind in a game, which wasn’t very often, we were able to come together. Everything we do, we do it together. Without Joanna getting on in that situation, no one gets hit in.”

The Lakers weren’t as fortunate in the next elimination game, falling 13-2 to Augustana. After the game, Callihan praised her team for working hard and getting to that point.

“You never know how these games are going to go,” she said, “You have to make sure you focus on the journey and not necessarily the end game. So much of what those players will remember about their time in college or that particular season has nothing to do with the final score of the game. They’ve made some of their best friends over the course of their (years). Those are the moments they’re going to remember forever.”

This season marks the program’s 50th in softball. Once again, the Lakers were a unanimous preseason favorite to win the conference, earning all seven first-place votes. A third straight trip to the WCWS and a national championship would certainly be the icing on the cake for a golden anniversary.