Note: The following appears in the May issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication's content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.
“Right now, the power of the Paw has never been greater.”
Aptly put by Clemson associate athletic director for student-athlete services and performance Natalie G. Honnen, the timing for the implementation of a Clemson softball program is remarkably ideal, as the state of Tiger athletics is at its pinnacle, making the outlook for the upcoming softball program incredibly bright.
“The primary goals are to build a facility, a coaching staff and a team,” stated Honnen when discussing the outlook for the softball program during its building phase. “But attracting the right kinds of players and developing a culture for the team are important goals, too.”
The announcement made in 2017 that Clemson would be adding a softball program, which is set to begin competition in the spring of 2020, was met with much excitement from Tiger faithful, as the Upstate itself has proven to be a hotbed for softball talent over the years. And following the recent hiring of head coach John Rittman to lead the softball program, the aforementioned excitement proliferated.
Following a thorough coaching search, Rittman was hired as the head coach of the softball team, bringing with him two decades worth of elite coaching experience. As the head coach of Stanford for 18 years, Rittman led the Cardinal to 16 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, produced 16 All-Americans and reached the College World Series twice.
Having coached greats such as Ashley Hansen, Lauren Lappin and Jessica Mendoza while at Stanford, Rittman developed a reputation as a coach with a knack for developing superior talent, something that is expected to pay dividends on the recruiting trail for the upstart Clemson program.
Formerly a college baseball player at Yavapai College and New Mexico State, Rittman entered the realm of college softball in the late 1980s, holding a variety of assistant coaching positions before earning the nod to lead Stanford in 1997.
From there, Rittman quickly established himself as one of the keenest minds in the sport, bringing with him immense success at every turn, including the national ranks. As a part of the Team USA softball coaching staff, Rittman had a major hand in several medals earned in national competitions, including a gold medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics and a silver medal in the 2008 Olympic Games.
In recent years, Rittman held an assistant coaching position at Kansas, as well as the USA softball team that won gold in both the 2016 Women’s Softball World Championship and the 2017 Pan-Am Games. Having experienced a wide array of success at multiple levels of competitive softball, Rittman is now presented with the opportunity to put his experience to good use by building a program from the ground up.
Interestingly enough, Rittman was a member of the Washington Huskies’ original softball coaching staff when that program was launched in the early 1990s, with Rittman having a hand in setting the tone for a Washington program that quickly established itself as a powerhouse, something that those in the Clemson athletic department are fully confident can happen with the Tiger program, as well.
“My first priority is to get out there and let prospects know about Clemson softball in preparation for signing our 2018 recruiting class,” explained Rittman.
Off to a great start, Rittman inked five recruits in just his first month on the job, including high school All-America pitcher Logan Caymol, the first signee for the new program. Tasked with the lofty requirements of compiling an entire roster and coaching staff prior to the first pitch in the spring of 2020, Rittman has embraced the challenge with open arms, using the fervor surrounding the addition of the Clemson softball team to his advantage.
While the 2018 recruiting class will redshirt next year before competing for Clemson in its first year of competition in 2020, Rittman will also look to add recruits via the junior college and transfer ranks in order to have a stratified roster featuring an ideal mixture of both young and experienced talent.
Aiming to reap the benefits of the bevy of talent presented by the amateur softball ranks in the Upstate of South Carolina and its surrounding areas, Rittman is recruiting with a culture in mind, as the softball-centric mindset instilled upon his players in past coaching stops created a like-minded culture of winning that is expected to translate to the Clemson program.
“It’s really exciting for all of the young softball players in the state of South Carolina who have dreamed about going to Clemson,” stated Rittman. “Now, they can dream about playing softball at Clemson.”
A magnet for drawing in talent of both the playing and coaching varieties, Rittman has already been joined by former Furman head coach Kyle Jamieson, who takes on the role as associate head coach alongside Rittman. Renowned for not only his tremendous coaching acumen but positive, infectious attitude, Rittman is positioned well to become the next great coach in the Tigers’ long line of bright coaching minds.
“There’s something special about coach Rittman in that he has that balance of knowledge and experience, yet he also has humility and candor,” said Honnen while speaking about Clemson’s incumbent softball coach. “And it’s been fun to hear him sell his vision for how this program will be.”
In addition to Rittman, Honnen and associate athletic director of facilities management Joe Simon are overseeing the requisite preliminary duties necessary for the impending launch of the softball team. As the sport supervisor for the softball team, Honnen serves as the lead contact, liaison and overseer of the early stages of the softball program’s implementation, while Simon facilitates the construction of the softball stadium and associated venues that are scheduled for construction between now and 2020.
Hitting the ground running, the Clemson athletic department has positioned itself well to adequately compete in the ACC, as well as on the national stage, relatively quickly after taking to the diamond in February 2020.
“We believe that we’re going to be successful quickly,” said Honnen. “We believe we’ll draw interest across the country from recruits. When it was in its infancy, we already believed we were in a good spot, and now, with the approval for the softball facility in place and a head coach on board, we believe we’re going to be able to compete in the ACC, as well as nationally, very quickly.”
With a head coach at the helm who knows quite well what it takes to succeed in every aspect of the sport of softball, the program certainly seems to be headed towards abundant success, which Rittman believes is a natural byproduct from the contagious success experienced across the board by Tiger athletics.
Goal-oriented, Rittman has several criteria in mind for the proverbial laying of the foundation as it relates to the Clemson softball program, beginning with putting together a roster of players who are committed to both winning and winning the right way.
“First and foremost, we’re able to recruit from the ground up, which enables us to help lay the foundation of the program for years to come,” said Rittman. “Second, we’re going to build the culture by laying out some core values, like family, academics, character and work ethic.”
Lured by the commitment to winning that has become synonymous with the Tigers, Rittman opted to take on the grandiose task of developing a program from infancy to relevancy without hesitation.
“Having the opportunity to be a head coach at a first-class university like Clemson, where there’s so much athletic tradition, a passionate fanbase and state-of-the-art facilities, really appealed to me.”
Throughout his career, Rittman has made the most of every opportunity presented to him, drawing the best from his players on the field, in the classroom and in the community, helping to foster the contagion known as winning that has been a constant variable in Rittman’s long, successful coaching tenure.
“Timing-wise, we hit it perfectly with where we are as an athletic program right now,” added Honnen when discussing the opportune logistics surrounding the launch of the softball program and the hiring of Rittman.
Needless to say, Rittman and everyone else involved with the softball team would assuredly agree with that sentiment. The power of the Paw has indeed never been greater, and the high degree of excitement and allure already surrounding a softball program that is just over two years away from undertaking game action indicates that Clemson softball will catalyze that power even more.
Like Rittman said, winning is very contagious, and a commitment to winning facilitates its spread. Therefore, as Rittman and his compatriots continue to make continual improvement as they build toward the spring of 2020, that commitment to winning should grow with the addition of each moving part, making Clemson softball a surefire candidate to represent the power of the Paw in every way.