On the eve of leaving for Yuma, Arizona, and the NJCAA National Tournament, many of the players have their graduation ceremony. The past week also included finals, moving out of the dorms, turning in books, and other end of the school year things to juggle.
As the head coach of 21 players, Jeff Null’s plate includes his players’ problems, both personal and athletic, the constant logistics of running a program, as well as the extra concerns of playing in the national tournament. On top of all the other things everyone had to be concerned about on Friday, everyone had to get a COVID-19 test to be eligible to play in Tuesday’s game against Yavapai.
“Sometimes I get so sidetracked I don’t get to focus on the ball and the coaching side of things,” Null said.
Fortunately, he’s got three assistant coaches who take a ton off his plate.
Jason Gwin and Null have the same hitting philosophy. So Null can send Gwyn a scouting report and trust him to go off and work with the hitters.
Summer Shockley, who pitched for the 2018 Three Rivers team that went to nationals, is more knowledgeable than any of the four coaches about pitching. Null can trust her to go off and work with the five pitchers.
Jason Courtney does a lot of recruiting for the team and knows what Null is looking for. He’s also bringing potential kids to Null’s attention.
“That’s stuff that a lot of times, during the course of the day, I can’t get to. Having a staff takes so much stress off of your plate,” Null said.
All three assistants have jobs away from Three Rivers. It’s a busy, hectic life they live.
“I think we do it because we love it. We love the kids, and I love being around the coaches,” Gwin said. “We care about the kids and their futures. Seeing them, what they are when they get here and watching them grow and become who they are now, it’s priceless.”
Gwin, who played for Three Rivers from 1998-99, owns Golden Gloves training facility in Poplar Bluff and has a wife and three kids. His kids are involved in sports, as well.
“Trying to have a home life, run a business and be up here, it gets pretty demanding and stressful sometimes. But at the same time, whenever you slow down and see the big picture and why you’re doing it, it makes it worth it,” Gwin said.
Courtney is a full-time police officer with a wife and two kids.
“It’s a juggle between all of these things. It’s tough to make your own kids’ games and try to make this program successful, too,” Courtney said.
Shockley works at a local tea shop while also working on her master’s degree in athletic administration through William Woods University. As the only woman on staff, who is also just a few years older than the players, the Raiders often come to her with problems they don’t take to the male coaches.
“I like being able to connect with the girls and give them someone they can confide in since we’re so close in age,” Shockley said. “It’s difficult trying to be their friend, but also being their coach ... When it comes down to serious business, I’m part of (the coaches’) group.”
All three assistants are headed with the team to Yuma, as well, which isn’t a negligible expense when you add up flights, hotels and meals for three people over nine days.
The Three Rivers administration, Null said, has been incredibly supportive of the team’s run, as it also was for the women’s basketball team when it reached the national semifinals a month ago.
Null said the school treated the team to dinner after it beat Indian Hills and had a team dinner the other night. They scheduled a sendoff celebration for 7:30 a.m. on Saturday.
“We’re pretty lucky to have our whole staff go. Somebody very easily could have had to drop out because of work or something,” Null said.
Gwin is also bringing his wife, who played for Three Rivers, and their kids. Courtney’s family will be in Kansas City at a tournament one of his kids is playing in.
“We’re always in different places. We always work it out,” Courtney said.
Much of Shockley’s family is making the trip as well. Not only is she a coach on the team, but her sister Morgan is a freshman with 12 stolen bases and 14 runs as one of the team’s pinch runners.
Shockley does, however, have to leave her dog in Poplar Bluff.
“There’s so much on everybody’s plate,” Null said. “It’s been hard to get everybody together and get them focused. I think once we get on that bus and head out, we’ll be on a mission.”
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic