After six years spent keeping Berkner among Richardson’s softball elite, Jayme Baker-Nelson looks to do the same on the private school diamond.
Recently named the new head coach at John Paul II, just the fourth in program history, Baker-Nelson inherits a softball team that advanced to the second round of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools playoffs last spring and returns two-thirds of that roster for 2020.
It was a mix of that allure, plus the chance to lay groundwork in one of the Metroplex’s softball hotbeds, that led to Baker-Nelson authoring the next chapter in her coaching career.
“I feel like the Plano community and softball is pretty heavy, so I really felt like I could attract kids to come to John Paul if I helped build the program up,” she said. “I’m really heavy in the softball community and coach at the club level too. I just want to help broaden the idea of kids being able to come play at that level and get great academics.”
Also the 16-and-under coach with area club program Team TFS, Baker-Nelson’s decision to join John Paul closed the book on a six-year run at Berkner – the coach’s first glimpse of coaching under the UIL limelight. Leading the Lady Rams to the playoffs during every year of her tenure, and receiving four all-city Coach of the Year accolades along the way, Baker-Nelson was reflective of the program-building lessons learned during her time in Richardson.
“It was the first school I was at where I had to build a program and maintain it. My previous school, I built programs but left after I built them,” she said. “I learned how to continue to maintain my level of expectations throughout six years and what it was like to watch girls meet them. I take so much away from that school.
“I learned how to build a culture of being a family and counting on one another and building the program to where those girls all felt connected.”
Prior to coaching in Richardson, Baker plied her craft at the college level as an assistant at her alma mater, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, as the program’s pitching and catching coach. In two years on the job, one during which the Storm qualified for the NCAA Division II championship tournament, she helped drop the pitching staff’s ERA by 1.4 runs – something she attributed to a hurler’s chemistry and confidence.
“The biggest thing with pitchers and catchers is that they have to be on the same page and have a great relationship,” Baker-Nelson said. “We’ve got to get those pitchers confident in their pitches. Most of the time, the reason ERAs drop is because of a pitcher’s confidence and we’ve got to get them to the point where they feel like they can throw any pitch at any time.”
Baker-Nelson looks to harness that same mentality with a John Paul squad that should remain strong in the circle with sophomore Emily Jonte back after turning in a TAPPS all-state second-team freshman campaign.
Whereas a confident mindset proved key in the coach’s development of her pitchers, it’s aggression and tempo that outline Baker-Nelson’s outlook at the plate.
“I’m definitely trying to build fundamentally sound players and players that are offensive threats,” she said. “If they hit the ball over the fence then that’s great, but we’ve got to be able to get barrel to the ball and make things happen. We’re going to be very aggressive on the bases, put the ball in play and run well, and try to create offense at a quicker pace.”
She won’t be lacking in experienced players, with John Paul returning the likes of Jonte, junior Samantha Samler (all-state honorable mention), sophomore Kendell King (all-district first team), junior Grace Childers (all-district second team) and senior Marianna Fresquez (all-district second team).
It’s a group Baker-Nelson hopes to soon build among the TAPPS elite in hopes of contending for a state championship, but one where the long-term, off-field gains will be just as rewarding.
“I’m really competitive and coaches will always tell you that they want to win a state championship, but at the end of the day I want to make sure we impact these girls to become strong, confident women moving forward,” she said. “I really feel like you can measure success if you have a positive impact on these girls.”