Inductee spotlight: Holly Hesse, Missouri State softball coach

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She has spent her career living a dream. Of coaching college softball. Of the sun often anchored above her shoulders. Of readying young women for the real world. And compiling wins.

Yes, good luck ever trying to pull Holly Hesse away from the game.

“I like to say that when I was 18,” Hesse said, “I went to college and never left.”

She’s certainly become a fixture as the longtime Missouri State University softball coach, and her 700-plus wins and overall body of work are big reasons why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Hesse with the Class of 2018.

Her induction is part of the Enshrinement presented by Killian Construction, set for Sunday, January 28 at the University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in Springfield. (For tickets, call 417-889-3100 & see details below.)

Softball vs. Southern Illinois on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Killian Sports Complex.

Hesse, who in 2018 will begin her 30th season as MSU’s softball coach, is the second-winningest coach in Missouri Valley Conference history and the winningest coach in MSU softball annals.

Her record stands at 749-747-2 and includes two regular-season Valley championships, five Valley tournament championships and five NCAA Tournament appearances. Her Bears’ teams own a record 72 wins in the Valley tournament and have produced 33 First Team All-Conference selections and nine Missouri State Athletics Hall of Fame inductees.

And that’s just skimming the surface of her resume.

“There’s a lot of things that go into success,” Hesse said. “First would be the people you surround yourself with. (Former MSU Director of Women’s Athletics) Dr. Mary Jo Wynn, and my longtime assistant coaches, Sue Frederick and Beth Perine, have played a huge role. So have quality students-athletes who have come into our program the last 30 years.”

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The softball program had five coaches prior to Hesse’s arrival and, thanks to passage of federal Title IX legislation that helped create athletic opportunities for women, she was well-prepared upon pulling into Springfield.

You see, she won 161 games as a pitcher for Waukon High School in Iowa and helped Creighton University reach three consecutive College World Series, including the inaugural NCAA Women’s College World Series in 1982.

After graduation, she was a softball assistant at Iowa State University and the University of Massachusetts and then two seasons at Creighton, where she was inspired by her former coach, Mary Higgins.

“I just loved the years of being a student-athlete and being able to compete at the highest level,” Hesse said. “There was not an Olympic team. I just wanted to be a part of the sport and coaching gave me the opportunity to compete.”

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However, Hesse’s first season at MSU was a humbling experience.

“We were 11-38 that first year and I’m sure (Wynn) was wondering, ‘What have we done here?’” Hesse said. “I was saying the same thing.”

Four years later, the Bears won the Valley, setting off what would be a tremendous run through the 1990s.

Barb Gaines was a National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American in 1993. From 1994 to 1998, Hesse’s teams averaged 32 wins, won a Valley regular-season title and three tournament championships, plus advanced to three NCAA Tournaments (1996-1998). The 1996 NCAA berth was the program’s first since 1983.


The 2000s have been impressive, too. The 2006 team earned a program-record 40 wins and advanced to the Los Angeles regional of the NCAA Tournament. The 2011 team authored a late-season surge, winning seven consecutive, to reach the NCAAs.

Besides having the support of Wynn and other coaches in the athletic department such as then-Lady Bears coach Cheryl Burnett, Hesse points to several other factors that created a winning atmosphere.

Among them is a coaching staff that hasn’t forgotten the challenges of being a college player, recruiting education-minded athletes; and her 2003 coaching book, “The Diamond of Success: A Philosophical Model for Coaching.”

The MSU softball team photos during the 2016 season. Aubra George/ Missouri State University

The MSU softball team photos during the 2016 season. Aubra George/ Missouri State University

While the NFCA has recognized MSU softball four times as a Division I Top 10 All-Academic Team – the 2017 squad ranked second in the nation in team GPA (3.648) — the book details philosophies on ways to build athletes physically, mentally, socially, morally and emotionally.

Additionally, Hesse was one of the founding members of the NCAA Women Coaches Academy, which was created to enhance skills and perspectives of women’s coaches.

She also is on the Board of Directors for True North Sports, which provides innovative educational programs for coaches of both genders and all sports. It could become a blueprint for creating a certification process in coaching.

It’s no wonder, then, the MSU Board of Governors honored Hesse with the 2016 Staff Excellence in Public Affairs Award for her distinctive work and accomplishments in support of the public affairs mission.

“At some point,” Hesse said, “I learned that there are more important things than winning.”


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Missouri Sports Hall of Fame’s 2018 Enshrinement Ceremonies presented by Killian Construction

When: Sunday, January 28

Morning reception: 11 a.m., presented by Meek’s The Builder’s Choice, at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive in Springfield.

Afternoon festivities: 4 p.m. reception, 5 p.m. dinner & ceremony at University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center, Springfield

Class of 2018: Mike Garrett (Kansas City Chiefs), Lee Smith (St. Louis Cardinals), Howard Richards (University of Missouri football), Jim Otis (St. Louis Football Cardinals & Kansas City Chiefs), Martin Mac Donald (Conservationist, Outdoorsman, Runner), football coach Gary Barnett (Northwestern University & University of Colorado), softball coach Holly Hesse (Missouri State University), Doug Elgin (Missouri Valley Conference Commissioner), Dr. Brian Mahaffey (Missouri State University, St. Louis Cardinals), shot putter Christian Cantwell (Eldon High School/University of Missouri/Olympics), basketball standout Kerensa Barr Cassis (West Plains High School/Mizzou), Dan Lucy (KOLR 10 TV Sports Director), Rockhurst High School football coach Tony Severino, basketball coach Steve Tappmeyer (Northwest Missouri State University, UMSL), Rick Grayson (PGA teaching professional), Learfield, the Lamar High School Football Program, Springfield-Greene County Park Board, Independent Printing – John Q. Hammons Founders Award, Rick Todd of Herschend Family Entertainment – President’s Award.

Sponsorship opportunities: Tables of 10 are $1,500 and include an autographed poster (a rendering by renowned artist Dayne Dudley), recognition in the printed program and at the table. Individual tickets are $150. Numerous other sponsorships are available, including congratulatory ads, trading cards and 20-month calendars.

Call the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame: 417-889-3100