When UW-Eau Claire softball Head Coach Leslie Huntington wanted to add to her coaching staff for this season, she did not look any further than two graduating seniors from last year’s team.
“I gave them a lot of responsibility right off the bat,” Huntington said of Emily Muller and Ashley Rubenzer. “When you’ve been in our program for four years you know what the expectations are.”
Muller, formerly the Blugolds starting shortstop, works with the fielders and heads up the team’s strength and conditioning program. Rubenzer, whose 39 wins on the mound put her fourth on the school’s all-time list, has served as the team’s pitching coach this season.
Neither position is paid and both Muller and Rubenzer said they returned to the team out of commitment and love for the program.
“We have volunteered our time the last four years, so it’s kind of the same thing,” Rubenzer said. “It’s just nice to stay with the program for another year and see it from a different side.”
Infielders Sarah Fern and Taylor Pierce said the workout regimens implemented by Muller have put the team in the best shape possible. Pierce also said having Muller around has made Pierce’s transition to shortstop much smoother than it may have been otherwise.
“She’s definitely been helping me at shortstop and understanding this position and what I need to do,” Pierce said. “I don’t know anyone else on the team that has played shortstop, so it definitely would have been harder (without Muller).”
Muller said there was an adjustment period during the fall regarding both the players with whom she had been teammates and with Huntington and Assistant Coach Robin Baker. But she said it did not take long before she felt comfortable in the role, which she said has given her much satisfaction.
“You feel like a proud mom when someone you’ve been working with has finally done something you’ve asked them to do or finally have figured something out,” Muller said.
Rubenzer has worked closely with this year’s pitching staff, led by her former teammates Emma Wishau and Laura Raflik as well as freshman Zana Lorbetske. She said she works with them throughout the week and sits in the bullpen during games, helping the pitchers with both the physical and mental part of the game.
Huntington said Rubenzer’s experience and honesty have been a welcome addition to the coaching staff.
“The entire pitching staff has benefitted from her knowledge,” Huntington said. “It’s very rare that a suggestion that she makes doesn’t help them.”
Raflik said not much has changed in her relationship with Rubenzer from last year, when the then-senior Rubenzer would help out the freshman Raflik in any way she could. But this being Lorbetske’s first season, she said having such an experienced pitching coach on hand has helped her grow as a pitcher.
“She’s good at pointing things out right away when she sees them, but if I have a question I know I can go to her and she will explain it right away,” Lorbetske said.
Neither Muller nor Rubenzer are sure if they will be on the staff again next year. Muller has been accepted into the University of Minnesota Rochester’s occupational therapy graduate program for the fall.
Rubenzer has a baby due in June and is currently looking for a full-time teaching job after serving as a long-term substitute at Putnam Elementary School this year. Both said they would love to come back if their schedules and living situations allow for a return.
For her part, Huntington said the team would be more than happy to welcome both back for next season.
“I would give anything to have them around for a really long time,” Huntington said.