White Lake — Joe Alsup has accomplished a lot during his 40-plus-year head softball coaching career.
And he has as much fire and passion for the game and kids he coaches today as he did when he started out in the mid-’70s.
Alsup, 68, has long since retired as a teacher, but he keeps busy with his coaching, hobby of antiques, along with caddying for his 34-year-old son, Ryan, who was attempting to qualify for the Michigan Amateur earlier this week.
Alsup, a one-time wrestler at Michigan State, traveled the country while playing slow pitch softball with his brothers, then felt in his early 20s that he could do a better job of coaching the high school girls softball team at Waterford Township ... and soon after got the job.
And, all Alsup has done since is have success, including a Class A state championship at Waterford Township in 1978, another Class A state title at Waterford Kettering in 1998 and three state final appearances at Lakeland (2006, 2007, 2010) where he has been since 2002.
Lakeland will try to earn its first Division 1 regional championship since winning seven straight back in 2011, a year after advancing to its last state title game appearance.
So, how did Alsup get his start in coaching?
“My brothers and I wrestled at Michigan State and I came back to Waterford (Township as teacher) and I was umpiring a game and our kids lost 45-2 to Farmington and I said, ‘I could do a better job than that,’ then put in for the job and the next year they gave it to me,” recalled Alsup who has won more than 1,100 games with a winning percentage of .800.
“I was 25 at the time and the next year we won the league championship, then won the state championship in the third year.”
When asked how the kids have changed through the decades, Alsup replied: “They haven’t. These kids here are fabulous. Kids are as good as they’ve ever been. Sure, there’s problems in society with drugs and other kinds of things, but as far as kids, I couldn’t ask for better. The average grade-point-average on this team is 3.7.
“I’ve had amazing kids throughout the years. I’ve enjoyed them. They help keep you young. I’ve always said if I ever got to the point where I didn’t enjoy it or if the administration was on me I’d get out of it, but that hasn’t been the case. It’s just been a great experience out here, the facilities, everything.”
While Lakeland’s players have an average 3.7 GPA, they also are hitting .406 as a team, averaging more than nine runs a game.
“This is the best hitting team I’ve had,” Alsup said. “We have a bunch of kids hitting over .400. There’s not one easy out and we’re talking 1-through-9. We have seven seniors, but I have a tremendous outfield coming in and the infield is coming back.”
Yes, Lakeland, 31-7 and ranked No. 7, has a loaded lineup heading into Saturday’s 10 a.m. regional semifinal at Novi against defending Division 1 state champion Farmington Hills Mercy. Mercy defeated Lakeland, 3-0, in last year's regional.
Sophomore shortstop Elizabeth Langley is hitting .485 with senior catcher Rianna Koteles, .450 with a single-season school-record eight homers and 50 RBI. Junior second baseman Kaley Miller is hitting .426 with seven homers and 34 RBI; senior third baseman Chase Schultz, .438 with three homers and 39 RBI and senior outfielder Lauren Castellon, .446 with three home runs. Junior Madeline Langdon has committed just two errors after making the move from third to first.
Teresa Menzel is 23-6 with a 3.34 ERA with Schultz also playing a role on the mound, going 8-1 with a 1.95 ERA.
Schultz and Castellon are headed for Northwood, and Koteles, NAIA Goshen College.
Koteles has worked Alsup’s youth camps in past years and hopes to be an elementary teacher in the near future.
“I loved working with the little kids and that kind of turned into me enjoying teaching kids in all areas,” said Koteles. “I’ve been working in an internship with my old fifth-grade teacher and I work with some of the third-graders in the Huron Valley district so I’m really excited to hopefully pursue my dream of teaching.”
Said Alsup: “I tell the kids, find your passion and go with it because you’ll be successful if you find something you truly love and enjoy.”
Schultz would love nothing more than to be playing softball during the final week of the season, needing Lakeland to win the regional championship Saturday to reach that goal.
“I think when we play the way we can we’re unstoppable,” Schultz said. “The chemistry that we have, a lot of us played travel together, when we’re all on it’s real fun.
“One of the things a lot of us has always been taught is that if you can’t hit you’re not going to play because you have to hit to win games. We have a really solid hitting regimen that we always go through and that’s led us to be really good hitters.”
Schultz played for her father, Dave Schultz on the Michigan Outlaws in past summers with a number of her teammates. Alsup helped build that travel team, which ranges in age from 7-18.
So, what makes Alsup one of the elite coaches in the game?
“I think he’s seen so many approaches to softball and has more strategies that other coaches don’t have so it gives him an edge,” Schultz said.
“He’s unorthodox at times with all the bunting, but it helps us win. He mixes things up. There’s some coaches who would never bunt their biggest hitters, but he wouldn’t hesitate if it would help the team.”