The softball coaching search came right to Baraboo athletic director Jim Langkamp this summer.
While umpiring at a softball tournament in Mauston in July, one coach caught the eye of Langkamp, who was in need of a high school softball coach after the resignation of Misty Muter.
That coach was Bonnie Brandreth, who was coaching the Mad City Panic, a summer program she started three years ago out of Madison. Langkamp was impressed by what he saw from Brandreth and the Panic throughout the tournament.
“I thought, ‘Man, this is what I want for our softball team, to have softball look like this,’” Langkamp said of his thought process while umpiring the Panic during the championship game. “It was really well played, the kids were excited, you could tell that they were having fun and were obviously very competitive.”
After the tournament, he found Brandreth’s contact information and reached out to see if she could bring that style of play to Baraboo.
“What I’ve learned in life, sometimes whatever you want, you just have to ask,” Langkamp said. “I emailed her out of the blue. I had no idea what her situation was, where she lived, if she was coaching somebody already. But I just told her, ‘I was extremely impressed with your team and your coaching and you were the most varsity-ready coach that I saw all summer long.’”
After a meeting in Madison, Langkamp came away even more convinced that Brandreth was the right person to lead the Thunderbirds.
“To watch her coach five games that weekend and see the quality, that’s the best job interview I’ve ever been able to give somebody,” Langkamp said. “To actually see somebody coach for that length of time gives me a lot of confidence that we’ve got the right coach here. ... I was sold that somebody with that kind of passion, that background, and her knowledge and expertise was definitely the person we had to have for our coach.”
The process ended on Wednesday, when Brandreth was introduced as the new Baraboo head softball coach during a meeting with the team in the high school library. Assistant coaches Elise Johnson and Maynard Mittelsteadt were also in attendance at the meeting and will be back with the T-Birds next spring.
Brandreth said she has had other high school job offers in the past, but she believes Baraboo is the perfect fit.
“There’s no place I would rather be than on a softball field, I just feel like it’s who I am,” said Brandreth, a Michigan native who has been in Madison for more than 20 years. “You will never see me grumpy at a softball practice. I’m just having fun all the time when I’m on the field. That’s a big theme. You play the game because the game is fun. That’s why we play the game, so we focus on that to make sure everyone is having fun.”
Brandreth said that hitting always finds its way on the field, stressing how she likes her teams to be able to hit up and down the lineup. She handed out a packet of some of her hitting philosophies on Wednesday, while also saying she likes to use video and other tools to break down swings.
Brandreth wants to develop a fun, positive atmosphere while also teaching the fundamentals of the game and the different situations that can arise throughout the season.
“When we’re working on batting, it won’t just be mindless at-bats in the batting cage,” Brandreth said. “Every time we’re sitting in the cage, we’re talking about an offensive situation. A runner on third with no outs, what are you going to try to do right now? What’s your plan when you’re coming up to bat? ... Whatever’s happening on the field, you know what you’re going to do with the ball, you know what we need to execute both on offense and on defense.”
Brandreth will take over a Baraboo team that went 5-16 overall last season, including 2-9 in the Badger North Conference. The Thunderbirds, who ended the season with a 4-3 loss to Waunakee in a WIAA Division 1 regional game, could bring back the entire roster. The 2017 Baraboo roster was made up of zero seniors and 11 juniors, including All-Badger North Conference selections Jovanna Blum, Alisyn Amant and Kelly Andrews. That trio, combined with the rest of the senior class, should give the T-Birds a lot of experience to draw on when the season starts in March.
“To me, the best part of being a coach of softball is trying to figure out how to work with girls to not just improve their game and teach them the game, but to give them the confidence to play their very best on the field,” Brandreth said. “And then take a team and make them achieve more and have more success than they ever thought they were going to have.”
The T-Birds hope that attitude turns into wins next spring.
“When I’m in, I’m all in,” Brandreth said. “I want to build a winning program. I want to have it be something that we’re really proud to be part of.”