Jennifer Williams named new softball head coach
On Friday, Oct. 12, the Dartmouth Athletics Department announced the hiring of Jennifer Williams as the seventh head coach of the Dartmouth softball team. Williams steps into the position to replace Shannon Doepking, who took the head coach position at Syracuse University on Sept. 14th.
Williams heads to Hanover after a stint at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she served as head coach of the softball team for eight years and director of sports performance for six years. At MIT, she racked up more wins than any other coach in the softball program’s history, with an overall record of 168-122-1. This past season, the Engineers finished seventh at the Division III College World Series, in addition to winning their first New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference championship.
The Dartmouth softball team also took home a conference championship last year, their third since 2014, winning the Ivy League with a 16-5 conference record. Both Williams and the Dartmouth softball program hope to continue their success in this upcoming season, and according to Williams, can do so through supporting the team as people, and not just as student athletes.
“To me, it’s more important to be able to provide support to the student athletes, help them through their Dartmouth experience as successfully and empowered as possible, and then be able to build that family and community with them to be able to do things right every day,” Williams said. “And when you do things right every day, and you’re as capable as Dartmouth student athletes are, that’s going to result in wins and good things on the field as well.”
This sentiment came through during Williams’ interview process.
“One of the main things she said to us is that she wants to care for the girls on a personal level first, and then academics, and then athletics,” assistant coach Olivia Watkins said. “So regardless of what you’re going through, she’s always going to look at you first as a person, instead of how you’re doing on the field or how you’re doing in class.”
Williams has a personal background in participating in athletics at an elite academic institution. She completed her undergraduate studies at Middlebury College, where she pitched for the softball team for four years. She graduated with program records in career wins (32), innings pitched (327.1) and complete games (41). Williams grew up in Maine, and her time there as well as in college in Vermont make her excited to return to living in a small town.
“I’m excited to get back to the smaller community, the feeling of being a part of a college town,” Williams said. “The Dartmouth feeling — the community feel, the academic feel — this place has always felt very good to me, it’s felt very much like a home to me.”
According to Williams, this sentiment will aid her in her ability to recruit athletes to the Dartmouth softball program.
“I really strongly feel that I have to be on board with the school and the academic environment in order to be able to sell it from a recruiting perspective, and that’s probably one of the most important parts about being a successful Division I coach,” she said.
The current softball team, according to team captain Morgan Martinelli ’19, is already on board with what Williams has to offer the team, and has faith in her ability to motivate the team to continue its recent success.
“I think having a new person to prove yourself to and show what you’re about is going to light a few extra fires under certain girls, which will carry throughout the season,” Martinelli said.
As far as coaching strategy goes, Williams says it’s too early to tell how she will run the team. With that said, she does have goals for how to strengthen what she considers an already strong and defined culture.
“I’m going to help them realize what their standards are, define them and articulate them even more than they already have, and then be able to hold each other accountable to them in a more consistent way than they already do,” Williams said.
Martinelli isn’t worried that Williams will completely transform the way the team currently operates.
“I think a lot of the good things are going to continue,” she said. “It seems like she has the mentality of ‘I’m not going to fix what isn’t broken,’ which is reassuring going into my last season.”
Williams’ perception of what she can offer the team, according to Williams, matches what the team wants from a new coach.
“I think the team is wanting development of culture, they want development of competitiveness and they want to have a team and a program that they’re proud of and that the alumni are proud of,” Williams said. “Those are things that very much fit with my vision for where women’s softball could be. I’m excited to be able to get going with them and to learn what all of our collective priorities are and move forward on them together.”
Williams will take the field with the softball team for their first practice together on Wednesday. Martinelli believes in her team’s ability to succeed, regardless of how the coaching turnover affects the way things run.
“At the end of the day, you still have to field the ball and throw it,” Martinelli said. “We just keep reminding ourselves that softball is softball, regardless of who’s coaching.”