As the 2011 LSU softball season came to a close, 11-year head coach Yvette Girouard retired, ending an impressive run as the program’s leader and was succeeded by current Tigers’ coach Beth Torina.
Torina brought a new intensity and fire to the program, but she also brought with her two assistant coaches with track records of success in collegiate softball — assistant coaches Howard Dobson and Lindsay Leftwich.
Dobson serves primarily as the offense’s hitting coach, while Leftwich is “involved with all aspects of the program which includes defense, hitting, recruiting, video scouting and camps,” according to her biography on LSUsports.net.
“I can talk about him all day, but the numbers stand for themselves and what he’s done with this offense,” Torina said. “They have grown this offense into one of the best offenses in the country and I think that is our largest area of growth as a program.”
LSU’s offense averaged .252 at the plate and scored 243 runs throughout the 58-game campaign the season prior to Dobson’s arrival. The Tigers did not have a single hitter average above .300 in 2011.
Now the offense is hitting a whopping average of .327 and has plated 333 runs 52 games into the 2016 season. Each of the eight everyday starters is maintaining at least a .300 batting average.
But it’s not just batting average and runs scored that have improved, as all offensive numbers across the board have steadily risen each season with Dobson in the dugout.
“We don’t have to rely on just one way to hit,” senior infielder Sandra Simmons said. “He works with our swing already coming in. He works with the way you have already swung for 15 years. … When you think [the offense] can’t get better it continues to get better.”
Leftwich has been instrumental to the team’s success as well. The former Northwestern State standout’s first non-student coaching position was with Torina during her debut head-coaching job at FIU in 2008.
The two have been together ever since.
“She’s put up with me for nine years. That’s pretty hard to do,” Torina jokingly said. “She’s been like my right hand in this whole thing. Her strengths are my weaknesses, so we’ve always worked well together. She’s always positive and always can find the silver lining. … We’ve got more stories than I can even tell.”
Leftwich may play a part in every facet of the team, but her main impact has been defensively.
Under Leftwich’s guidance, the team has produced multiple All-SEC Defensive Team selections, including former-Tiger Ashley Langoni who was named to the All-SEC Defensive team in 2012 and Simmons who earned the selection in 2015.
The Tigers’ fielding percentage went up in each of her first three seasons, but Simmons’s career-high .994 average led the team when the squad peaked in 2014, as the team produced a .970 clip.
Leftwich’s recruiting efforts have helped the team become a national brand in collegiate softball filled with quality depth. Torina has called the 2016 roster the deepest of her coaching career.
LSU freshman Amber Serrett and sophomore Emily Griggs start nearly every game in the field, and the team’s top three pitchers are sophomores and a rookie.
“Lindsay is our backbone,” Dobson said. “She’s the one that handle a lot of the drill stuff. She’s the motivator and positive talker. … She always has good feedback to give all the time.”
Dobson’s journey to Baton Rouge has been a bit more involved than Leftwich.
He began his collegiate baseball career at Panola College in Carthage, Texas before ultimately finishing at McNeese State where he graduated in 1997. Through his connections at McNeese State, he began coaching collegiate softball, as a volunteer assistant coach.
The Orange, Texas native then helped found the University of Houston’s softball program and worked as an assistant coach at Oklahoma helping guide them to two Women’s College World Series berths.
Most recently he was the head coach at Southern Mississippi for four seasons before resigning to pursue other opportunities and ultimately landing at LSU.
Dobson has worked with USA softball over the past four summers as an assistant coach and will continue his work with the Senior National Team in 2016. He said the experience from working with the team was invaluable and has even implemented practice methods used by the USA players at LSU.
“You’re playing competition from other countries, but you’re also dealing with some of the best players in the United States,” Dobson said. “Seeing their work ethic, what they do and their approach to the game week-in and week-out, day-in and day-out. The little things that they do in their at-bats. … I’ve been around some of the best minds and some of the best people.”
After five seasons with the team, he said he couldn’t see himself moving on from LSU. He and his family feel at home in Baton Rouge.
“I am not looking to go anywhere. This was kind of the dream job for [his family],” Dobson said. “My goal is to win a national championship here and win the SEC. I enjoy my job. I enjoy being with Beth and it’s nice being an assistant coach and not have the headache of the head coaching job that she has to do.”
Photo courtesy of LSU Sports Information