When the softball team went to Hawaii this March for a tournament, Occidental head coach Alison Haehnel took the team on a hike up a mountain as a bonding activity. She brought her toddler, but according to player Steph Stamnes (first year), he did not walk up the slope. Instead, Haehnel chose the more physically strenuous option and pushed him all the way to the top while he sat in his stroller, despite the dirt path and steep elevation.
“That’s how determined she was,” Stamnes said.
Now, Haehnel is channeling that resolve to bring the Occidental softball program out of the SCIAC cellar and into contention.
Haehnel grew up in Palos Verdes where she started playing T-ball at the age of five. She transitioned to softball soon after. While she played other sports such as soccer and gymnastics, her passion remained on the diamond.
In her playing days, Haenhel was a pitcher. She often practiced with her dad, which she said strengthened their already close relationship.
Haehnel was named Occidental’s head softball coach in 2012. After finishing undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) where she played Division I softball, she started her career as a graduate assistant for the softball team at Washington College. From there, she went on to help coach at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, and then returned to UIC to get her masters in instructional leadership while serving as an assistant coach.
After earning her degree, Haehnel assumed her first head coaching position at Concordia University Chicago. At Concordia, she taught English in addition to coaching. But while she enjoyed teaching, she does not have plans to pursue it further.
“I enjoyed having such a different role and having such a different relationship with the general student body beyond just student athletes, but I’m not sure I would pursue teaching in the future,” Haehnel said.
Softball captain Mariah Montgomery (senior) started playing under Haehnal — or “Coach Ali,” as she calls her — in her first year at Occidental, which was Haehnel’s first year as well. Montgomery spoke of the support Haehnel provides to her players both on and off the field.
“She has a lot of passion for the team,” Montgomery said. “She really wants us to do well, to do well as individuals on and off the team. She really cares about each individual and makes sure that you can be the best person you can be as well as the best player you can be.”
Montgomery notes that Haehnel has done exceptionally well with recruiting — she has expanded the team from 11 women to 20 women in the three years she’s been here. Beyond expanding the team, Haehnel has helped her players grow into themselves, according to Montgomery.
“She really helped me be a leader,” Montgomery said. “I came into Oxy really shy and quiet, and I think she really helped me grow, take charge and be a leader.”
The self-determination that the sport provides is what kept Haehnel involved in softball even after her playing days. It’s what she loves most about the game.
“The game doesn’t know who you are,” Haehnel said. “It doesn’t know who your opponent is. It doesn’t matter. When you step between the lines on game day, anything can happen. It makes for an exciting game every single day that you step on the field. I love that the hard work you put in, inevitably will pay off. There’s always a process involved and when you trust that process, really good things happen.”
And so far, she has been successful. In 2012, the softball team had the most wins out of any other Occidental sport and this year, the team had its first win against a Division II school at their spring tournament in Hawaii. Other major successes in Haehnel’s time here include the team’s first ever wins against University of Redlands, Whittier and Chapman. Haehnel’s determination is beginning to pay off.