During her senior year of college, softball head coach Chrissy Schoonmaker was told she might never be able to walk again after breaking her neck during a car crash in 2007. Now, 14 years later, she prepares to lead a softball team looking to repeat as A-10 Conference champions.
“I was told I would never play softball again, I might never walk again, I definitely wouldn’t run again, and that my career was effectively over,” Schoonmaker said. “With grit, hustle, heart and all those things that I want to look for in players, I was able to come back. It took me over a year of rehab.”
Schoonmaker said she gained perspective from the experience because she was not only able to learn how to be a better teammate from the dugout but how to lead her team from outside the field. She said she plans on drawing from those leadership strengths she gained as a student-athlete and implementing them with the team.
She said watching her older brother play baseball growing up sparked her interest in softball. She said she played multiple sports throughout her childhood but found herself at “home” on the softball field.
Schoonmaker served as a captain for four years at South Carolina and was a member of two NCAA tournament squads. She was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team as a graduate student in 2008 and also received the Gamecock Inspiration Award after returning from her injury.
Schoonmaker said she always knew she wanted to give back to the sport in some way and she started coaching at a high school in Columbia, South Carolina after receiving her graduate degree. Schoonmaker said she spent time dreaming about her practice plans in between graduate school and her full-time job and decided that she had found her “calling”.
Up until 2019, Schoonmaker served as the lead assistant for UConn, where she focused on scouting, recruiting and planning practice. During her final campaign, she helped produce five All-AAC performers and 14 AAC All-Academic Team honorees, helping them record 95 wins from 2015 to 2019.
During the 2021 season, Schoonmaker led Harvard’s virtual program with an emphasis on team unity and leadership building. Similarly, this year, she said she wants the team to focus on doing the small things well and how to handle hardship. She said as a female leader, she hopes to instill confidence and strength in her players by the time they enter the workforce.
“I think the game of softball mirrors the game of life, through softball in the games you have ups and downs through the game, you’re going to encounter some adversity, you fail a lot in our sport,” Schoonmaker said. “We’re one of the few sports where you fail more than you succeed, so a hitter is hitting .300 but they’re succeeding three times out of 10.”
The Colonials took home the A-10 Championship and earned their first ever berth into the NCAA tournament under the leadership of former head coach Shane Winkler last season. Schoonmaker said she hopes to build on the successes of the team, helping them achieve a bid for the NCAA tournament this year and the ones to come.
Despite losing key players like 2021 A-10 Player of the Year Jenna Conne, she will welcome back 2021 A-10 Pitcher of the Year Sierra Lange and A-10 All Conference First Team graduate student utility player Alessandra Ponce for another season as she takes over a burgeoning program.
She said “no one can take that title” from the team last year, but the incoming season provides a blank slate for the team. She said the underclassmen who played smaller roles last season will have the opportunity to make a name for themselves.
“I think this team gets a chance at writing a new chapter of GW softball and writing this specific team’s destiny,” Schoonmaker said. “But certainly we’ll lean on our veterans for some insights into the past into their success.”
Schoonmaker has yet to meet all the players on the team in person as students began arriving on campus just last week. But she said she is already impressed with the way the team has been carrying themselves in the offseason, sharpening aspects of their game on their own time.
“It’s really awesome to see how driven these student athletes are and how great they want to be,” she said. “I just get to facilitate their growth and their greatness there. They’re going to be an amazing team to come out and watch. I would encourage all the GW fans and all the GW students to come out and check us out.”
Though the 2022 season schedule has yet to be finalized, Schoonmaker said she has already begun pinpointing the strengths and the identity of the team. She said she wants to learn the traditions of the team to “incorporate their experiences” into the next chapter.
“We’re not going to take any shortcuts,” she said. “We’re going to work really hard. I’m very detail oriented. The other thing I’d say is who we are, who we are as people, who we are as teammates, who we are as competitors, is why we’re going to be successful on the field.”