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  • Rivier College softball coach Dave Morissette conferences with his players prior to a double header with St. Joseph College Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Morissette , in his second year coaching softball has transitioned smoothly from leading the Raiders basketball team. Staff photo by WILLIAM WROBEL
  • Rivier College softball coach Dave Morissette speaks with sophomore Kelsey Goodridge after being thrown out stealing second base during a game against St. Joseph College Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Morissette led the Raiders to a 25-15 season in 2011, which included an ECAC Tournament bid. Staff photo by William Wrobel.
  • Dave Morissette, Rivier College softball coach reflects on the Raiders gameplay during a home match against Saint Joseph College at Raider Diamond in Nashua Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Staff photo by William Wrobel.
  • Rivier College softball head coach Dave Morissette coaches third base during a game against St. Joseph College Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Morissette began at Rivier College as a basketball coach but assumed responsibility for softball in 2010. Staff photo by William Wrobel.
Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hoop to softball transition keeps Morissette moving

Don’t think that coaching softball in the spring is like a vacation after a long winter of mens basketball for Rivier College mentor Dave Morissette.

“I pace more in softball than I do in basketball,” Morissette said. “For a softball doubleheader I probably walk five miles.”

The message: Morissette, who became a surprise choice nearly two years ago to guide the Raider women after successful coach Kelly O’Connell resigned, takes the spring sport seriously, perhaps even more so than mens hoop, which he’s coached for 14 years at the school with a conference title and NCAA appearance.

What’s startling is Morissette stepped into a softball program that had two Great Northeast Athletic Conference crowns and NCAA appearances in four years, with just a handful of returnees for the 2011 season. The cupboard was basically bare, but all the Raiders did was go 26-15 and come a whisker away from another NCAA berth, losing in the GNAC title game.

This year, they’ve already won 20 games and will be a title contender again. In other words, there was no taking a step back with the coaching change.

“We had a real good season last year, and we’re having a decent one now,” Morissette said. “It’s been fun, it’s been challenging. Different speed, different mentality. Women and men athletes are the same, but you have to handle them differently.”

And often at the same time. O’Connell had coached women’s basketball, so starting preseason practice for one sport while another one was ongoing was a way of life, and often dealt with some of the same athletes. It was something a little new for Morissette, and he admits the non-stop schedule of consecutive seasons can be taxing.

“It is tough, and I’m tired. I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “It’s hard. It’s demanding, and you have to love it. And I do. I want to do this for a long time.”

How did it all come about? O’Connell had resigned in August of 2010 for family-related reasons, and her first duty that needed to be carried out by someone else would be to run the fall softball program. Morissette said he would do it for a few weeks, leading up to basketball starting in mid-October.

“The girls were great, and those three weeks or so were fantastic,” Morissette said. “And the kids said, ‘You know, you should be the coach.’ ”

So Morissette began talking with Riv athletic director Joanne Merrill and she told him, “I think you’d be really good at it.”

It was probably a more natural move than first thought. One, Morissette had coached the Riv softball team once before, for a couple of seasons (last in 2002) prior to O’Connell’s arrival, and also for a couple of years at Notre Dame of Manchester. Two, his wife Kristen has been the girls softball coach at Exeter High School for the last 18 seasons. So softball is a topic of conversation around the house a lot.

“We watch softball on TV and talk about it,” he said. “We just watched a college game the other night. But we’re completely different. I’m more aggressive, Kristen is more laid back. I take chances (stealing bases, taking the extra base, etc.). I’d rather go down aggressive.”

When O’Connell guided the Raiders to two GNAC titles, she had a great pitcher in Monica White to build around. With White graduating a couple of years ago, Morissette didn’t have the luxury of one dominant pitcher so his teams have been different, more offense oriented. This year, in fact, the Raiders have been ranked as high as fifth in the country in Division III in hitting at a .365 clip.

“We’re doing it a little differently, with offense,” Morissette said. “Our pitching is good, don’t get me wrong. We’ve had a few 8-7 games and we’ve lost a few of those. What people don’t know is we’ve been injured.”

Last year’s team wouldn’t have survived the injury bug this year’s squad has undergone, because, when Morissette took over, “There were 15 players on the roster, but only 10 who could really play.”

This year’s Raiders team is deeper – but young, with only one senior. But talk about offense – sophomore infielder Catherine Roy (Dracut, Mass.) was hitting over .500 at last look. Junior Michelle Mercier (North Smithfield, R.I.) had clocked seven home runs, and sophomore Nicole Peacock (Warwick, R.I.) had over 30 stolen bases.

Coaching two sports whose seasons overlap, at least with practices, Morissette has relied heavily on his assistants. This year, the Raiders added former Nashua South coach John Racicot and have former Nashua North coach Mike Holloran on staff as well, and they’ve been able to take practices early on when basketball was finishing up.

Not only going through the seasons is a juggling act, but recruiting can be as well.

“You have to work smart,” Morissette said. “There are showcases (tournaments, AAU or otherwise) that are real important. You can’t go to everything, you really can’t. In softball, there’s something you could go to every weekend from May to August.

“And we worked real hard in basketball. We were out every night there wasn’t practice or a game. You just can’t waste time. You get a lot done when you’re on the road.”

How far will the Raiders go this year, as conference tournaments approach?

“Last year’s team had a hard time finding its personality,” Morissette said. “We’re better this year.”

Whenever the season ends, Morissette will be a hard guy to find, decompressing after going full blast since October. “No complaints,” he says.

That’s why it seems the Raider players, administration and coach have all made the right choice.