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“Give everything you have,”; Softball coach’s journey in the High Country

Leah Matney
Head coach Shelly Hoerner laughs along with her players in the dugout during a softball practice on Oct. 4. While in college, Hoerner helped lead Canisius College to back-to-back MAAC titles in 1995 and 1996.

“I love my players, I love this team,” said softball head coach Shelly Hoerner. “It’s pretty cool to be able to come to the field and just interact with them on a daily basis.”

Now in her seventh season, Hoerner continues to lead the Mountaineers onto the Sywassink/Lloyd Family Stadium field.

Hoerner started her softball journey at 5 years old, when she joined her first organized team. Despite being too young for the league and the equipment being too large, Hoerner’s coaches allowed her to play, seeing the passion and enthusiasm for the game.

In the collegiate ranks, Hoerner played two seasons at Barry University, a Division II program in Miami Shores, Florida. Playing catcher for the Buccaneers, she helped lead them to the Division II College Softball World Series while being an all-conference selection. She struck out six times in 224 at bats, while scoring 41 runs and posting 30 RBIs. 

Hoerner then transferred to Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, where she helped lead the Golden Griffins to back-to-back MAAC titles in 1995 and 1996. In both seasons, she was an all-conference selection. Following her college career, Hoerner played catcher professionally for Cavigal Nice Sports in Nice, France in 1998.

Hoerner got her first head coaching opportunity at Valdosta State in 2000 for one season, where the Blazers went 14-38. While her first season did not go as planned, it served as a learning opportunity for the new coach.

“It was just very humbling,” Hoerner said. “I knew my hard work would pay off, and 25 years later I feel it has. I think you learn a lot from losing and you learn your patience, you learn how to handle different situations.”

After Barry, Hoerner moved onto the College of Charleston, going 254-206 and winning Southern Conference Coach of the Year honors in 2007. Hoerner moved on to Georgia Tech after a five-year stint with the Cougars, where she earned her 500th career win in 2016.

In June 2017, Hoerner was announced as the next head softball coach for the Black and Gold. During a meeting with App State Director of Athletics Doug Gillin, she was sold on the atmosphere in the High Country.

“When we met, I just had a really good vibe,” Hoerner said. “When they brought me to campus, it felt very family oriented and that has not changed in the seven years that I’ve been here.”

Hoerner’s turnaround of the program started immediately, leading the Mountaineers in her first season to their first Sun Belt Conference series win since 2015. In 2019, the Mountaineers tied the program record for wins in a season at 31, with 13 wins against Sun Belt opponents. 

 In 2023, App State defeated No. 23 Louisiana for the school’s first ranked win in program history. She’s gone 149-152 throughout her tenure and became the winningest coach in program history last season.

“I did that?” Hoerner said with a stunned expression. “The only stat that matters to us is the wins and losses.”

There are a number of different challenges that come with being a head coach at the college level. From scouting to recruiting to game planning, there’s no shortage of responsibilities. Included in those duties is being a role model for your players.

Hoerner chats with two of her players during a practice on Oct. 4. During her tenure as the head coach at the College of Charleston, Hoerner earned 2007 SoCon Coach of the Year honors. (Leah Matney)

“When I first met her, I knew immediately she was gonna be a second mom,” said graduate student catcher Taylor Thorp. “I remember I tried to shake her hand, and she was like no I give hugs. I just knew it was gonna be a family from the start.”

Thorp committed to the Mountaineers under the previous head coach, Janice Savage. When Hoerner was hired, Thorp’s scholarship was honored and she’s seen most of Hoerner’s tenure in the High Country.

“It’s obviously gotten closer,” said senior outfielder Kayt Houston about her relationship with Hoerner. “I can really go to her with anything and I know that she’ll give me the best advice and truly want the best for me.”

Houston said Hoerner wants them to be intentional about what they are doing while sticking to their blue-collar work ethic. Playing for Hoerner also means paying attention to the little details, and having as much fun as possible.

Hoerner said while winning and production on the field is important, making an impact away from the game is what she loves to do. She said over the course of 25 years, she’s had the opportunity to build relationships that have stuck and has even appeared in some of her former teammates and players’ weddings. 

“I’m a giver,” Hoerner said. “I think that’s what’s really stuck with me is just the relationships and being able to make an impact in any way you can.”

While in the dugout, Hoerner is fiery and passionate about seeing her team succeed on the field. Thorp said when someone hits a home run, she will find that player and give them a hug, something Thorp had never seen before.

“She’s the best coach in the country,” Thorp said. “Best coach to play for and we’re just really, really lucky to have her.”

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About the Contributors
Ethan Smith
Ethan Smith, Sports Editor
Ethan Smith (he/him) is a senior journalism major, media studies minor. This is his third year writing for The Appalachian.
Leah Matney
Leah Matney, Photojournalist
Leah Matney (she/her) is a junior with a digital marketing major and photography minor from Lincolnton, NC. This is her first year with The Appalachian.
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