A number of challenges face Walla Walla University as its softball program transitions from a club program to membership in the Cascade Collegiate Conference, but head coach Mike Jimenez and assistant coach and director of recruiting Ray Moffitt say they are up to the challenge.
The goal of a club sport has primarily been simply to play, whereas the collegiate environment will be to compete. Changing that culture is among the many challenges.
Jimenez, who has been head coach at WWU since 2003, and Moffitt got a jumpstart on their transition from club to collegiate a week ago by holding a recruit week and hosting a dozen potential student athletes for three days.
The goal of the recruit week, say the coaches, was to give the recruits an opportunity to experience college life, learn all they can about WWU and inner act with the team’s current players. Needless to say, getting the recruits to put their names on WWU’s National Letter of Intent is also a priority.
“It’s all about it being a good fit for both player and school,” said Jimenez. “They will get a good education when they come here ... we want the softball to be a bonus good experience.”
To be a member of the CCC, each school that is a member, is required to have a minimum of at least six championship sports. WWU has six – men’s and women’s basketball, men’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s golf.
“Our athletic department has operated under the umbrella of the NAIA for approximately the past five, six years,” said Jimenez. “The reason we have affiliated with the NAIA, their emphasis of development of character aligns really well with the morals and values of WWU, a Christian based program. I would say one of the biggest reasons for the softball program being full-fledged NAIA/Cascade Collegiate Conference member, is the quality of programs and the scheduling of games that built-in with the conference.”
All the sports, are full-fledged members now, in the Cascade Collegiate Conference except for the softball program. The plan and hope, is for the softball program to be grandfathered in starting the fall of 2018.
“As far as recruitment goes, it has been the most positive it has ever been,” said Jimenez. “Our interest and numbers of those becoming aware that we have program, have jumped through the roof. We are looking for this next year to be our last year of 12 or 13 players on our roster, then jumping to anywhere from at least 15-18 for many years to come. And not just warm bodies, but student athletes that will keep pushing our program to a higher level. I am very excited where are program is going.”
In addition to being evaluated by an outside expert, the recruits also participated in a game with WWU’s current roster of 11.
“They all performed well,” said Moffitt. “If you combined the recruits and the core of the current squad, you’d win some games in the CCC. You would definitely have a competitive squad. That’s the goal.”
Moffitt, who was an assistant at Northwest Christian University (Eugene, Ore.) for 14 years, said that while they were impressed with the dozen who visited Walla Walla recently, other prospective student athletes will be visiting soon.
"I'm very familiar with the CCC and know we need to upgrade our level of play," he said. "And we will. WWU has a lot to offer."
Among the key challenges facing WWU will be scheduling teams that already have a full schedule and upgrading the talent pool to be competitive in the CCC, a conference that had three teams (Corban, Southern Oregon and Oregon Institute of Technology) play in 2017 NAIA Regional events and two (Corban and SOU) reaching the national tournament where Corban placed second.
“Scheduling is the biggest challenge for us. The schools that we try to schedule to play, most of them are already in a conference and they only have a certain amount of contests that they can play in,” said Jimenez. “And then when they can play, usually they are times that are not the best for our students. That will be a challenge.”
WWU has an enrollment of 1,750.