Meghan Crouse isn’t crazy when describing her Clark College softball team more like an NCAA Division I program, and less like the junior-college and Northwest Athletic Conference member it is.
That includes treating her 13 players as if they play in the Mountain West Conference, just like Crouse did as an all-conference left fielder at Utah from 2005-08.
Because for Crouse, a Vancouver native in her first season as the Penguins’ head coach, it’s all about perception.
Or rather, changing it.
Crouse’s biggest message is this: Just because you’re at a two-year school doesn’t mean you can’t be a four-year player.
“I want to get them to think differently,” said Crouse, 31. “I just need them to believe like I believe in them.”
It’s all part of Crouse’s vision for Clark softball, and since her hiring in the fall, the culture change has benefited greatly, players say.
What sold sophomore first baseman Kaylee Harteloo, a Hockinson High graduate, on Crouse early on was the coach’s positivity … even at the team’s 5 a.m. workouts.
“When you have someone who is that passionate,” Harteloo said, “it’s easier to buy in.
“She holds us to high standards and high expectations.”
Pitcher Madison Plummer called it a different vibe from a year ago, and a comfort level that wasn’t there previously.
“We trust her,” said Plummer, one of eight sophomores. “And she listens to us.”
For Crouse, she, like her players, is learning, too, but in another way — learning the ins and outs of coaching junior-college softball: everything from budgeting to recruiting as a first-time head coach.
She spent the past four years as an assistant at her alma mater Evergreen High School. The time spent with the Plainsmen prepared her for Clark, she said, but feels this is the right first step in her passion for coaching college softball.
“I love being a part of this,” said Crouse, who works at the Vancouver-based Orion Medical Supply. “This isn’t just a hobby for me; it’s my heart and soul.”
Hired in September meant Crouse was behind the curve in coaching and recruiting. She wasn’t able to recruit her own players for this year’s squad, leaving her with just 12 when the season began. She held open tryouts, but didn’t find anybody worth adding to the roster. One late addition was Saint Martin’s University transfer Lucy Yazzolino, bringing the roster up to 13.
Having a small roster (she hopes for around 18 next year, she said) is one of the challenges Crouse is up for.
“Being at the college level,” she said, “sometimes, you need to learn stuff the hard way and you need to be creative.”
With the expected departure of the eight sophomores on this year’s roster, she’s already signed a trio of players for the 2018 recruiting class, including two pitchers.
This summer will be a busy one on the recruiting trail.
“Every weekend, I’m going to be at a tournament,” she said.
One eventual goal includes a 100 percent rate of players moving onto four-year programs whether they’re NAIA or NCAA Division I — “I’ll never stop trying on behalf of them,” Crouse said — but for now, she knows changing the perception on the field starts with the small stuff, too.
The Penguins are 4-9 entering Saturday’s NWAC South doubleheader at home against Lower Columbia. They swept Mt. Hood last week but were swept in doubleheaders by Centralia and at Southwestern Oregon on Tuesday.
While offensively, Crouse likes what she sees, it’s the defense that continues to be a work in progress.
“We’re perfectly capable of learning and being better,” she said. “The team I walked into (in September) and met is not the team we are today.
“Sky’s the limit. Why not us, why not now?”