Diane Laffey had no problem coaching in a downpour last week at the University of Detroit Mercy, enjoying the fact she was guiding Warren Regina to a comeback win over Farmington Hills Mercy in the Catholic League A-B Division championship softball game.
Laffey has been head coach at Regina since 1970, the same year that the legendary John Herrington started his head football coaching career at Farmington Hills Harrison.
And, like Herrington, Laffey is the state’s all-time winningest coach in her sport.
But while Herrington will be closing out his career this fall since Harrison will be closing its doors following the 2018-19 school year, Laffey has no plans on retiring or even slowing down from her role as basketball coach, softball coach and athletic director.
Laffey is happy Regina is stable, especially at a time when schools are closing, including Livonia Ladywood next month.
“Everybody is hurting for enrollment and you always want more, but right now we’re stable, we’re in pretty good shape,” Laffey said. “I feel really bad for the kids at Ladywood. They had been very good in softball and in volleyball, too.”
Laffey plans to coach for a 50th year and beyond, and is thankful for the opportunity. She is having too much fun and wouldn’t know what to do with herself if she wasn’t teaching young ladies on and off the field.
“It’s all about the kids and the kids are great and they get me energized,” Laffey said. “It’s just as much fun as when I started out. I think my approach might have changed a little bit. I don’t think I’m nearly as strict or as tough as I was previously. I still get mad on occasion, but for the most part I think I’ve mellowed a lot.”
Sure, kids have changes from a generation ago, but they still enjoy being coached and being competitive. And Regina’s student-athletes know if they listen to Laffey they will be rewarded since she has the blueprint of success in the way of six state championships (1989, 2004-07, 2015) and countless Catholic League titles, with the latest coming last Tuesday in a 5-4 win over Mercy.
Regina (20-6) will open postseason play with a district opener against Warren Woods-Tower Friday afternoon at Warren Cousino.
“Sometimes it’s harder to motivate the present-day kid than it used to be,” Laffey said. “I think it’s because there’s so many other things they’re doing. They’re just involved in so many other things, so many other things they can do. A long time ago there wasn’t as many sports.
“These kids, the kids on this team have really worked hard to get to where they are and they get along really well which helps. The team chemistry is good. They support each other all the time which is a coach’s dream, and there’s no bickering among them.”
Laffey has talented players, too, including Penn State-bound third baseman Melina Livingston.
“We have her leading off so when she leads off with a hit it just gets the whole team pumped up,” Laffey said of Livingston, who is hitting .533 with 14 home runs and 31 RBIs. “She has that much motivation behind her and when she gets a hit or gets on it just gets the whole team going, gets the whole team focused.”
Livingston had high praise for Laffey, saying: “She taught me selflessness. She doesn’t treat the more talented players on the team any differently than she treats the other players on the team. She fully understands and believes in teamwork and how one person does not make or break the team. She also teaches sportsmanship. Don’t get me wrong she’s a very competitive person and she likes to win, but she also believes in winning the right way.”
And Regina is winning the right way. Laffey said this year’s team is arguably her top hitting team in Regina history, hitting .411 as a team with junior pitcher Marisa Muglia batting .465 with 41 RBIs from the cleanup spot and second baseman Meghan Berlin (Indiana Tech) hitting .453.
“That’s been our strength this year, definitely hitting, and if we make mistakes in the field we try to overplay that by hitting the ball,” Laffey said. “This is one of the best hitting seasons we’ve ever had. And, when you can get hits from kids at the bottom of the lineup like we did (in the Catholic League final) the other day, that really helps.”
Regina had 14 hits in the Catholic League final with seven coming from the bottom third of the lineup, including a 4-for-4 night from Megan Ross and a walk-off double from Katie Bieszke, who hits eighth in the order.
Ross joins her sister Lauren Ross in the outfield. They are two-thirds of the Ross triplets, joining brother Adam, who is the valedictorian at Warren De La Salle.
Laffey has coached daughters of players who have played for her in the past, including Megan and Lauren Ross, whose mother Kelly Adams “was a good athlete and had sisters who also played,” Laffey said.
No doubt, Nikki Nemitz was Laffey’s best pitcher at Regina, helping the program to three straight state championships before playing at Michigan a decade ago. Mary Campana was an outstanding position player for Regina in the late 1980s before playing for Carol Hutchins in Ann Arbor and Mary Jane Dailey, daughter of former longtime assistant Jack Dailey, was another strong pitcher.
When asked how many more years Laffey planned on coaching, she replied: “I don’t know, haven’t put a timetable on it.”
Laffey has no reason to be thinking of slowing down since former players have helped her, including Gina Munson, who graduated a few years ago and played at Central Michigan, and two former Regina players who are now junior varsity coaches: Christie Lietzow, who played on the 1989 state championship team, and Carolyn Lekki.
Instead, Laffey is just looking forward to making more memories.
Liggett hosts North, South in Division 1 baseball district
Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett coach Dan Cimini decided to move up to the top division last year after winning Division 3 state championship in 2016.
Cimini was obviously proud of how his team responded, defeating Grosse Pointe North in the districts and advancing to Michigan State University, where it advanced to the Division 1 state semifinals and lost to eventual champion Saline.
Liggett (22-5) is ranked No. 2 in Division 1 behind Bay City Western and will be hosting a district that includes Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South.
South plays North Saturday at 10 a.m. with Liggett hosting East Detroit at noon. The winners will play for the district title at 3 p.m. South defeated North, 11-3, Saturday in a consolation game in the Grosse Pointe Invitational, where South coach Dan Griesbaum earned win No. 800.
Liggett has a strong pitching staff, led by junior right-hander Alec Azar (7-2, 0.90 ERA) and senior right-hander Anthony George (9-1, 1.75).
“They’ve been very efficient,” Cimini said. “Our team has made a total of four errors so defense and pitching is what our success has been based on.”
North is led by senior pitcher Tyler Hill (8-1, 0.93 ERA) and junior Chad Lorkowski (4-3, 2.08 ERA). Lorkowski is hitting .350 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs, and junior outfielder Ryan Shanley is hitting .455.