Before the arrival of coach Bill Edwards in 1990, Hofstra softball was largely a have-not program.
"We used to play on a grass infield," recalled Edith Gallagher, who just completed her 23rd year coaching softball at Mansfield University (Pa.).
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Balls hit beyond the outfielders rolled into the street. There was a Little League-like backstop. Equipment consisted of a few bats and a bag of balls.
"No flying or buses," for road games, Gallagher said. "Two vans and a bunch of players who loved the game."
A change took place when Edwards came from Commack High School, where his resume included a nine-year record of 118-61, seven appearances in the Class A playoffs and a Long Island championship in 1988.
Edwards made the then-part time job his passion. He didn't break down walls, he erected them. First, he got the school to put up a snow fence to contain balls hit past the outfielders. "He was amazing right away," Gallagher said. "He was thorough, detail orientated. We were going to do things right, no matter how long it took us. We did a lot of drills a lot of times that year, till we got it right. We were just a sub mid-major team. He turned it into one of the premier powers on the East Coast."
And, under Edwards, a nationally recognized, multi-NCAA Tournament bid team that by 2000 was playing in brand new Hofstra Softball Stadium.
After 25 years, 928 victories and 15 NCAA Tournament appearances, the 69-year-old Edwards has retired, ceding the coaching duties to associate head coach Larissa Anderson, who has been at Hofstra for 13 seasons. She knows there are big shoes to fill.
"I really need clown shoes, don't I," she said this week, several days after Edwards announced his retirement.
Edwards' body of work had already earned him entrance into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame five years ago. Last month, he was inducted into the Suffolk Hall of Fame. He leaves with the knowledge that the team will be in capable hands with Anderson. "It's certainly Larissa's time," he said. "I'm excited for her, excited for the program."
Today, Hofstra softball is a fully funded and high profile sport. In the early years, Edwards didn't dwell on what the program didn't have -- he envisioned what he could accomplish.
"Part of my game plan for life is never settle for mediocrity," he said. "I always want to do the best I can do to the highest level I can achieve. So when you get into coaching high school you want to win a county championship and then a state title, when you get into college coaching you want to get to the College World Series. I think anybody who is settling for less than that is cheating not only their players, their university and themselves. That's my nature, I don't know how to do anything other than to throw my heart and soul into it."
Edwards got players from near and far. Crystal Boyd, the best position player in program history, arrived from East Meadow High School in 1991 and in 1993 led Hofstra to its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
It became standard fare to make the NCAAs, but Edwards wanted more. The Pride twice came within a victory of making the Women's College World Series, most recently in 2013 when former St. John the Baptist star Olivia Galati pitched the Pride to the Regional final. Galati, Hofstra's first first-team All-American, was the best of a long list of terrific pitchers over Edwards' career.
"Being from Long Island and him building up the Hofstra program from basically nothing from when he started was just incredible to me," Galati said. "I wanted to be part of that program because of him and what he stands for."
All-American pitcher Alicia Smith, class of 2000, was so impressed by Edwards that she decided to go to Hofstra on the eve of an expected signing elsewhere. "I was supposed to sign my national letter of intent with Vermont. The night before I got a phone call to visit Hofstra," said Smith, now an assistant softball coach at Dowling. "That was it. I switched gears. It was such a powerful impression. He's very powerful. He has such an amazing presence."
Caryn Bailey, the power hitting outfielder who will be a junior next season, said Edwards did not lament after games that were lost, whether it be during the regular season or in tournaments. "I don't think disappointment was even in the picture at all," she said. "He will tell you play your heart out and whatever happens, happens."
Bailey said the team will miss Edwards, but, "Coach's voice will always be there, through Larissa."
Anderson said Edwards is always welcome. He may take her up on that. "Whatever she needs from me, obviously I'll be there in a heartbeat," he said. "I'm not going to stray very far from the game. I''m certainly not going to stray very far from Hofstra."