Lousy weather forced the Tumwater High School fastpitch team inside for the day. The Thunderbirds’ non-conference home game against Timberline would have to be rescheduled.
Normally a situation such as this would draw the ire of the players who would much rather be playing in a game outside than simulating a practice in a gymnasium.
Zero sulking, however, can be found.
In fact, the players look almost giddy to be here.
New Tumwater coach Ashley Andrews had a message for her players on the rain-soaked day.
“I told them that we get to practice and be together today. How cool is that?” Andrews said. “Our goal is to go out every day and practice and play with a purpose. Make the days count. I always tell the girls go do those little things because that’s what you will remember. That’s what you will miss when it’s over.”
Andrews, a 2008 Tumwater graduate who led the T-Birds to a 3A state title in 2006 before moving on to the University of Tennessee where she was a four-year starter in Knoxville, is arguably the greatest fastpitch player Tumwater has ever produced.
She was an EA Sports All-American during her senior year and a multiple-time all-state selection.
She also knows the game from the coaching side, having served on the staffs for both Tennessee and the University of Washington.
But out of all the positive traits she brings to the Tumwater program in her first season, which there are a vast amount of, her enthusiasm maybe the most impressive, and infectious, of them all.
“She’s just always super upbeat,” said Aly Carpenter, the team’s only senior. “It just makes us all work so much harder. It’s always fun, and it has really made the team come together. We are so much more of a solid group than last year because of her.”
While completing her master’s degree in Sports Psychology at Tennessee, Andrews, who started 233 games and played in a two Women’s College World Series during her collegiate career, served as a graduate assistant for two seasons with the Volunteers before heading back home and becoming the assistant head coach for the University of Washington’s softball program.
That stint lasted two years as well before she moved back to Knoxville and assumed the role of director of softball operations at Tennessee for the 2016-17 season.
“It was such a great experience and I learned so much for (Tennessee head coaches) Ralph and Karen Weekly and (Washington head coach) Heather (Tarr),” Andrews said, “but it really took a ton of time and I was looking for something not as demanding.”
She moved back to Tumwater last July, completely unaware the T-Birds, which were coming off a fifth-place finish at the Class 2A state tournament, were in the market for a new coach.
“When I decided to move back from Tennessee I thought I was going to take a break from softball. I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do,” said Andrews, who currently serves as a substitute teacher at North Thurston. “I played for the previous coaches (at Tumwater) and didn’t know they weren’t going to be here anymore when I saw online they were looking for a new coach.”
Andrews was unsure about applying until Tim Slavin, a former Tumwater assistant who coached her during her high school years, encouraged her to pursue the coaching position. She was hired in September.
“It was exactly what I was looking for, being back at Tumwater High School where I graduated from,” Andrews said. “I can’t tell you how truly honored I am being back here. I loved my time here both academically and athletically. I loved my coaches, the teammates I had. And I want the players on this team to have the same positive experiences I had.”
While Andrews enters as the team’s new coach she definitely was not an unknown among the T-Birds players as Carpenter and several others can remember watching Andrews on TV whenever a Tennessee game was broadcast.
“She’d be on and we would get so excited. Everyone thought, ‘That’s us. That’s Tumwater.’ We just loved it,” Carpenter said. “You go from watching her play to having her be our coach, it’s amazing. She knows this program. She knows our spirit and what we represent which I like a lot.”
Andrews made her Tumwater coaching debut on March 12, leading the T-Birds to a 9-1 victory over North Thurston.
“I was so nervous. So much more nervous than when I was playing,” Andrews said about her first game as Tumwater’s coach. “I think the team is having fun. Winning takes care of itself. I’m not worried about winning. I hope they’re not worried about winning. We want to focus on the little things. Wins will come. I just want them to enjoy the journey and the process.”