Despite high hopes put on the young team, Tech softball floundered this year. The Jackets closed the season at No. 8 in the ACC with a less than satisfactory overall record of 19-34 after struggling with away games all season.
Beginning their season in Puerto Rico, the Jackets proved that they had the talent needed to make it to postseason competition, but the only problem was consistently using that talent.
Last minute scrambles were enough to earn the Jackets more than nine extra-inning games this past season but were not enough to push Tech into postseason competition. Starting their work to improve consistency on the field with a bit of inconsistency, the Jackets said goodbye to Coach Shelly Hoerner and welcomed a new head coach to the program this spring.
In hopes of giving the team all the tools they need to concentrate their talent into playing consistently through every inning, athletic director Todd Stansbury hired Aileen Morales. With a long, successful history of positive contributions to Tech athletics on her resume, Morales looks to be the perfect match for the Jackets.
Morales is well equipped to take the helm and steer the program in a smoother direction, after nine years of participation in Tech’s softball program, advanced experience coaching other collegiate softball teams and experience competing at the professional level for the Chicago Bandits and the Puerto Rican National team.
Her legacy as a decorated athlete at Tech and her success as a coach illustrates her versatility and ability to coach every member of the team. Over her nine seasons as an athlete and assistant coach at Tech, the jackets averaged 43 victories/season, won four ACC Regular Season Championships and four ACC tournament championships. Additionally, she took part in eight NCAA Regionals and an NCAA Super-Regional.
Morales left her assistant coach position at Tech to take on head coach positions at Young Harris College and then Radford University. Leading a full revamp of Radford’s softball program over her first season as head coach, Morales made a name for herself as a successful head coach capable of rebuilding.
After a single season under Morales, the Highlanders shot up 96 spots in the RPI and advanced to their first postseason competition in four years. Even without her history as a proven program rebuilder, Morales’ accolades illustrate that she is a fantastic candidate to bring the Jackets out of a three-year slump and reintroduce Tech to postseason competition.
Multiple ACC honors, championship titles, and tournament titles supplement her resume. Morales remains Tech’s all-time leader in games played (265), at bats (850) and stolen bases (154). Along with being a staple in the top five rankings for runs (2nd), hits (3rd), doubles (5th), and triples (5th), on paper Morales has what it takes to turn raw talent into consistent performances at any level.
Her familiarity with ACC competition is exactly what the Jackets need to pave the way to postseason competition, and her ability to turn around Radford’s performance on the field leaves fans confident that she will bring the change Tech needs.
The next year will be her chance to prove her ability to turn around a softball program as large as Tech’s. If all goes well, Morales could be bumped out of some of Tech’s rankings by they very athletes she will be coaching this season.
Much like Josh Pastner, Morales’ expectations are set low for her first season. However, that does not mean she is off the hook for her first year. If anything, Pastner’s success has put more pressure on her to turn around the softball program. To return Tech to the success it saw when she was a player and assistant coach, Morales will have to continue the solid recruiting that Hoerner brought; the class of 2017 was ranked No. 44 by FloSoftball. Additionally, she will have to develop a team that continues to get younger.
With only eight upperclassmen on the roster, the Jackets are a green team. While that would normally be a cause for worry, this season it will most likely be a good thing; young talent is pliable. Change will not happen overnight, but there is no doubt that there are going to be changes under Morales.
As Tech gets ready to host the 2018 ACC Softball Championship this season, Morales will have yet another reason to return Tech to the glory it saw while she was on the team.