Alex Hall's NH College Notebook: Softball coach takes up challenge at community college
Article Written By: Alex Hall
Published in New Hampshire Union Leader
FOR THE past several seasons, one of Mike Vining's biggest challenges was finding a way past Sunapee High School in the NHIAA Division IV softball tournament.
After 10 years coaching Portsmouth Christian Academy of Dover, Vining has embraced a new challenge this fall: building Great Bay Community College's new softball program.
Vining said Great Bay approached him about leading the new program and, after some consideration, he accepted the position in January. He led Portsmouth Christian to the second round of the D-IV playoffs last spring, where the Eagles fell to Sunapee.
"I knew I still wanted to coach even after both my daughters (Alicia and Ashley) graduated," Vining said. "I would have stayed at Portsmouth Christian more than likely because they wanted me to stay and we had great success there. I felt (Great Bay) would bring a level of challenge that I'd look forward to."
Vining led Portsmouth Christian to its first state championship appearance in 2014 and the semifinals in 2015 and 2016. The Eagles lost to Wilton-Lyndeborough, 10-9, in the 2014 title game and to Sunapee in both the 2015 and 2016 semifinals.
Ashley graduated last spring as the D-IV pitcher of the year, an award Alicia won her senior season (2015). Vining was named the 2015 D-IV coach of the year.
In between coaching Portsmouth Christian last year, Vining was spreading the word about Great Bay's new program and recruiting players for its inaugural season. Vining also travels to high schools around New Hampshire as the state director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which helped him inform coaches about Great Bay's new program.
Vining and assistant coach Paige Cormier, a Spaulding of Rochester and St. Anselm College graduate, found 10 players, including nine from New Hampshire, interested in being part of Great Bay's inaugural season. The Herons' roster includes Farmington High School graduates Makayla Herget, Kierstin Bryant and Ashley LaValley, Lisbon's Deanna McGuire and Newmarket's Danielle Brashear, who Vining coached in middle school and at Portsmouth Christian.
Vining said the Herons have a solid nucleus and he sees pitching as one of the team's areas of strength. Vining and Cormier, who pitched at Spaulding and St. Anselm, coached at Portsmouth Christian together the past three seasons, helping both Alicia and Ashley earn D-IV pitcher of the year awards.
"We've already seen tremendous improvement from our pitchers since they came in to where they are now," Vining said. "I'm pleased with where our team is."
Great Bay played its first two games Sept. 16, losing 13-0 to NHTI and 6-0 to Southern Maine Community College.
Over the team's slate of Yankee Small College Conference games this fall, Vining wants to work out the growing pains and build chemistry among his players. Once the fall schedule is over, the Herons will have workouts in the winter and travel to Fort Myers, Fla., in March before beginning their spring campaign.
Vining said the team will welcome three to four new players in the spring, which will give the Herons some depth and roster flexibility. Great Bay also currently has additional roster openings for the spring season, Vining said.
"My goal is to get those (growing pains) worked out through the first couple doubleheaders so at the end of the fall season, the girls are in the right places and clicking together so we're just working on skills during winter workouts," Vining said. "And in the spring, we'll welcome in a few new players so we can hit the road running."