The University of South Carolina Beaufort may have searched far and wide for its next head softball coach, but in the end the Sand Sharks found who they were looking for right here at home.
Assistant coach Laura Heberling was named the Sand Sharks new head coach Tuesday afternoon.
Heberling was notified by athletics director Quin Monahan at the end of the work day, and the two spent the early evening contacting players before making the hiring public.
"I'm just really excited," said Heberling, who plans to call each player Wednesday. "I'm ready to move on and move forward."
Heberling stayed on after USCB decided in early June not to renew coach Ty Rietkovich's contract for the 2013-14 season despite a two-year run that saw the Sand Sharks go 80-17 and come within a victory of the NAIA World Series this spring. She continued to recruit despite no guarantee she would be retained.
"She knew with the caliber of candidates there was a chance that we would offer the position to someone else," Monahan said. "Part of how she impressed me so was the willingness to do that. She knows there's something special here and she wants to be a part of it."
"There was no true feeling on my part as for what was going to happen," Heberling said. "Mr. Monahan and the committee took the right steps. I felt comfortable that they were right in the process, they were going to do what was best for the university and continue on with these girls and the success we've had."
Monahan said the university whittled down a pile of applicants to between 50 and 60, the majority of which had college head coaching experience. The much smaller pool of candidates that drew serious consideration included one with more than 12 years of Division I head coaching experience, another with successful runs in both the NAIA and Division I ranks and a couple of highly decorated NAIA coaches.
But Monahan and the search committee decided they liked what they already had.
"She has been, from the very beginning, a strong candidate for this position," Monahan said. "... We had an exhaustive search, stirred up a large candidate pool, some great coaches with significant experience, and one thing led to another. But the most important thing is the fit for the institution. We ended up with the best fit for our institution at this time."
"I was ready no matter what for whatever was going to come," Heberling said. "My heart was with these players. No matter which way it turned out, it was going to happen. Either I got this great opportunity or they were getting someone else. But I'm happy for this opportunity."
At least one player is happy, as well.
"It's fantastic!" said rising sophomore pitcher Ashlie Layman by Twitter message.
"She is very well respected by the ladies in the program and the recruits," Monahan said. "Considering the roster we had last year, (we lost) only two players and didn't lose any recruits. And I believe she's a significant part of the reason why they are returning. We fully recognize why they are so excited about the future."
Heberling served as an assistant during the first two years of the program's existence, acting as the team's pitching coach and lead recruiter. USCB's pitching staff compiled a 2.28 ERA last season on the way to a 43-6 record, Sun Conference regular-season and tournament titles and an appearance in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round.
As a player, Heberling was a pitcher and infielder at Young Harris College and UNC Pembroke before serving as an assistant coach at UNC Pembroke, William Woods University and Iowa Wesleyan College. She joined USCB in February 2011.
Heberling isn't sure what comes next. She needs to hire an assistant and has started that process already. But for now, she's ready to see her players.
"I'm really excited, I want to get in touch with them more than anything," Heberling said. "I can't wait to see them. We have some recruits out there. I'll be getting in touch with them and building that relationship as a head coach. Getting them on board and starting on our journey."
Heberling believes the Sand Sharks are ready to put a rocky summer behind them and focus on improving next season.
"I think the players are ready to go into the next phase of what has been started here," Heberling said. "There are always going to be ups and downs. I think they're on board. They're ready to come back and be together."