The Mt. Hood softball team has a new coach this year: Brittany Hendrickson.
She’s replacing the highly respected Meadow McWhorter, who had coached the Saints since 2002 and captured five championships in the last eight seasons, including in 2016, her final year. McWhorter recorded three 40-win seasons, including a program best of 43-7 in 2007, before taking the head coach job at Portland State University.
You might imagine taking over a team as recently dominant as Mt. Hood would be a bit unnerving, but Hendrickson doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t feel intimidated about it, I just see it as a great opportunity,” the first-year coach said. “I feel like she has set this program up for so much success, and ‘Yeah, don’t mess it up,’ but I feel good.
“It’s an amazing opportunity because I just get to continue that success,” she said.
Hendrickson takes over a team with eight sophomores, and knew it could be a difficult transition for them, having a new leader. But she didn’t expect it to be as bumpy of a start as it has been.
“There were definitely some curve-balls thrown… It hasn’t been the easiest year ever, or even the year that I thought coming in,” she said. “But I think that through the adversity it has been a learning experience for (not just) myself, but the girls, too.”
Even so, the Saints are on familiar turf: They are off to an 8-3 start as they approach the start of play within the NWAC South Region.
Hendrickson understood though that to bring the team together she’d need to build relationships with her players. It was one of her biggest goals, she said. So the Saints entered the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure road run in downtown Portland, together as a team. It made for great bonding between the players and coaches before even hitting the field.
The new coach found more ways to strengthen the team chemistry. “We’ve had some longer practices, to get used to what I was running and kind of my different philosophies, and then (teach) what we are doing strategically,” she explained.
Hendrickson, who was a star player at PSU in 2011-15, served as an assistant coach at Concordia University in Irvine, California, last year. The Mt. Hood job is her first head coaching position.
Those very same sophomores are now being used to help Hendrickson, in her transition.
“We are right down the middle (split between freshman and sophomores),” she said. It’s a good thing, “both because of the girls from last year who know how to win from that championship team, and then the freshmen who just came in” who are talented and have responded to the sophomores’ lead, she said.
Another concern about Hendrickson taking over the Saints team was her age, considering she’s not much older than her players, but she has found a way to use her age to her benefit.
“I feel like that’s an advantage, as far as I can connect to them…. They know that I know what they’re going through,” she said. The players also helped to build a relationship, she said. “I feel like I was able to get to know the girls pretty well; they’re a pretty open bunch, so that helped.” She found that once she got the girls doing sprints, they knew she was in full control, she said.
Hendrickson has a clear passion for the game, which she hopes to pass onto her players.
“It’s a game that translates to life very well, as far as all the times that you’re gonna fail in life, but being able to bounce back,” she said. “College softball should be something that is fun,” she said, noting her players can “learn a lot” about fighting through setbacks in adult life and finding the fun there, too.
The Saints kick off South Region play on Tuesday when they play two games at Clark College in Vancouver.
Hendrickson plans to continue the Saints’ success, she said: “(It’s) kind of an expectation (to win) here, so I want to make sure that the culture and expectation is carried on.”