By: Jeff Strange

2023 Overall Record: 24-25

Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Record: 7-17

Coming off a 24-25 season, the University of Saint Mary brought in new head coach Kayleigh Behymer-Swan this past fall to lead the Spires softball program. The Spires are returning two Second Team All-Conference selections in Junior Outfielder, Alexis McDaniel, and Senior Outfielder, Sadie McWilliams. Additionally, KCAC Honorable Mention selections Natalie Bruce (Jr./3B), Briana Solis (So./UTL), Allyson Dias (Gr./C), and Allie Cox (Jr./RHP) return as well for the Spires, as they open up their 2024 campaign on February 9 in Mesquite, Tex. Saint Mary will be tested right out of the gate against perennial NAIA powerhouse and preseason top-10 team Oklahoma City at 12:15pm this Friday afternoon.

With excitement looming as the spring season approaches for the Spires, Top Gun Events caught up with head coach Behymer-Swan to get her thoughts on the upcoming season:

This is your first season at the helm with St. Mary…how would you describe your experience taking over the program?

“Coming in this past fall, I could see that this team had a great deal of talent. The skillsets of our athletes has honestly impressed me since day one. Each of our athletes have very big personalities, which has been fun to get to know. However, with that has come a need to teach them that there are expectations of high standards and accountability needed. The girls have begun to buy into this approach and it’s beginning to show at practices; they’re starting to do the little things right and they’re taking pride in executing the small aspects of the game that can lead to big results. We have largely made it a point to break the game back down to the fundamentals and emphasizing the importance of understanding that everyone has a job on the field and everyone can play a role into the outcome of the game.

In the fall, we stressed to the girls to test their limits and to not settle – we want them to want more! We also broke them down to the very basics; not only with the mechanics but also with their knowledge of the game. We’ve also tested them from a mental standpoint; there’s a workout that has kind of become a bit of a tradition amongst KC area coaches that we call 26 minutes. It’s a grueling conditioning and mental workout that has tested the girls to push themselves past their comfort zones. Early on, the girls struggled keeping up with it but now they own it! It’s been fun to watch their overall growth and buy into what we’ve implemented into the program and I’m very excited to see where we’re headed.”

Can you give some background information on your coaching and playing experience?

“I played collegiately at Avila University, graduating in 2019. After I graduated in 2019, I went to Wingate University as a Graduate Assistant for a year. In 2020, I was a Graduate Assistant at Baker University, finishing my Master’s Degree. I stuck at Baker after I completed my degree as an assistant coach until 2023. I took over at U. of Saint Mary in the fall of 2023; this is my first season as a head coach.”

Can you give some background information on your coaching staff?

“Up until mid-November of 2023, I was running the program on my own. However, we were very fortunate to bring on Elsa Skeie at that point and she has brought a wealth of knowledge and excitement that has been huge for our program. Elsa has been all-in since the beginning and very passionate towards her role. She has done a great job working with our infielders (she was an infielder at Luther College in Decorah, IA).

I primarily work with the pitchers and catchers. Coach Skeie and I both work with our hitters and outfielders.”

Can you give some analysis/perspective on your team for 2024?

“I believe that we have a true mix on offense. We have speed on the bases and in the field. There was an offensive approach that was pushed in the past here; we have brought on a different approach, retraining our hitters as we move forward. We are pushing line drives and hitting the ball hard as opposed to trying to lift everything. We’re trying to utilize our athleticism as a useful tool as well. Depending on the situation, who we are playing, etc. we may look to bunt, or we may look to drive the ball hard; ultimately, we are aiming to utilize our athleticism so that we are dangerous in any situation.

In the circle, we’ve got six arms – five that are active and one that is returning from an injury. Each girl is different in her approach and what they bring to the field; this is a great luxury to have as a coach.

We have a freshman that throws with good speed and movement. We have a sophomore lefty that has excellent spin and nasty movement. We have another sophomore that throws hard and has a unique motion, which is another tough look for hitters. We have another freshman that creates great spin along with a very good change up. My rotation is rounded out by a junior that is very consistent, throws a great drop ball and displays a bulldog demeanor in the circle. It’s going to be fun working with each girl this spring and employing each, based on matchups and situations.

At catcher, we have Allyson Dias who has a great arm and bat. Her best attribute is that she is an exceptional leader. We also have three freshmen catchers that bring some exciting qualities to our roster.

My outfield is very fast with great range. Lexi McDaniels is my centerfielder and is a special athlete. She has incredible speed while also leading the team in home runs last season. She’s also very intelligent; she’s second in her class as a nursing major and loves life, has a great sense of humor but also understands how to dial it in and put in hard work.

Sadie McWilliams also patrols the outfield and was actually recruited by myself while I was at Wingate University. After spending a year at Wingate, she decided to come play closer to home (she’s from Basehor, KS). Sadie is in her senior year and I’m very happy to have her with us here at Saint Mary. She has so much power at the plate, is always trying to learn more and is a great leader for our team. She’s a great student with a bright future ahead of her and I’m proud that I’ve been able to coach her.

On the infield, we have a great amount of experience with three seniors and one junior. Their chemistry and pull for each other is full of contagious energy.”

What are your short-term goals for the program?

“My hope is to finish with an over .500 winning percentage this season. We have the talent there to achieve this; it’s up to us to execute. However, I don’t want to simply settle for that; we’re driving the competitive edge out of these girls. Myself and Coach Skeie are making it a point to change the mentality of this program, having these girls understand that they are all very capable athletes and that we have the talent to succeed. Let’s compete in conference, let’s compete with the powerhouse programs and let’s translate our athleticism into success. If we can collectively buy into this mentality, we can compete with the best programs.”

What are your long-term goals for the program?

“I’ve mapped out an ideal game plan for how I’d like to construct our roster and program so that we can compete at the highest level possible over the next several seasons. If we can recruit effectively, I’m hoping to find our program competing for a national title in the upcoming seasons.

We have a very good facility; our field is turf and we have access to several different weight rooms that we are able to utilize. U. of Saint Mary has a very nice campus, with beautiful architecture displayed throughout the premises. The staff has a great feel for their students; the professors are going to know their students’ names and are there to help our students succeed. The academic departments work well with the athletic departments. Overall, there’s a lot that we can offer as recruiting elements that I’m excited to utilize as we aim to grow our program.”

Recruiting? Obviously camps being one avenue…But can you share other approaches that your program takes? Do you attend showcase events to scout athletes? Large-scale national tournaments? Or are you more focused on regional events? Does your program have a geographic barometer that it generally covers? Any particular events that you’ve covered in the past that you anticipate continuing to cover in the future?

“We have plans to initiate camps this upcoming summer; dates will be determined as we get closer to then. We’ll plan to host additional camps next fall and winter as well.

We get emails very frequently from recruiting platforms, which is great. I personally like to see athletes send me their info with videos (or links to videos) that have taken the time to research our university and program as well.

Establishing relationships with travel ball coaches has been a huge asset. Getting input and feedback from reliable sources helps initiate contact with prospective student athletes as well.

We largely spend the bulk of our time in the Midwest when going to watch prospective athletes; however, we don’t want to limit ourselves to one geographic location. We have to plan properly when it comes to traveling to see talent but again the relationships that we’ve built with organizations and coaching staffs helps tremendously in aiding with finding talent to help our program.”

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