Looking to take a front-office job, Mike Steuerwald instead found himself on the field with the superstars, and that was his ticket to Cuesta College.
Steuerwald, announced as the new Cougars head softball coach on Thursday, was praised by Cuesta athletic director Bob Mariucci for his youthful enthusiasm, but another big reason why the longtime Wisconsin resident was tabbed to fill the five-month vacancy was his experience with the Rockford Thunder — a professional fastpitch team in Rockford, Ill.
Steuerwald, 27, had coached three years of baseball as an assistant at NCAA Division II Rockford College before looking into helping out with the Thunder in his off time.
His only softball experience being a couple seasons at high schools in Wisconsin, Steuerwald thought, at best, he might get a summertime desk job with the pro team.
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Instead he was asked to join the coaching staff and tutor no fewer than three national team members and a full squad of former Division I stars, including former Texas left-hander Cat Osterman.
“I don’t know if I was intimidated,” Steuerwald said.
“I’ve worked with some really great coaches at various levels, and they’ve always taught me if you believe in what you do, your players buy into it — no matter what level.”
Despite being short on softball street cred, Steuerwald said he quickly won over the women he coached and helped guide the team to a National Professional Fastpitch league title.
The players were the ones who convinced him to apply at Cuesta and come back to California, where the Los Angeles native hadn’t lived since he was about 5 years old.
“He was a baseball coach,” Mariucci said. “That was his last job, but what was really impressive was his experience with the Rockford Thunder. Katie Burkhart, she plays in that league. Cat Osterman. Girls from Arizona and Texas. He’s been around great softball players.”
Burkhart, the former San Luis Obispo High pitching star who led Arizona State to a national title, actually worked out with the Cougars at their practice session on Thursday.
And if things progress the way Steuerwald hopes, she won’t be the only pro spending time with his team on the Central Coast.
A fundraising youth softball clinic that would bring top players to the area is already in the works.
“Sometimes I feel some people looking at the women’s side of things and say, ‘Hey, it’s only women’s sports’ as opposed to ‘Hey, there’s a lot of girls out there, 6 or 7 years old, that would love to meet these girls,’ ” Steuerwald. “There were some girls on my team today that called up their moms after practice and said, ‘Hey, guess who I got to hit off of today?’ ”
The forward thinking on the topic of fundraising is something Mariucci is happy to hear.
Facing a budget crisis last summer, the school chose to suspend its women’s tennis team, arguably the most successful sport on campus, after longtime coach Mike Napoli retired.
With the softball program also without a coach for so long, there was concern that another women’s team would be cut.
Aiming to keep his program’s budget balanced, Mariucci took a breakthrough step. Tapping his brother, former San Francisco 49ers head coach and current NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci, for a favor, Cuesta raised $28,000 in a raffle where prizes included Super Bowl tickets and an autographed Joe Montana jersey.
“We did fundraise in the fall with the Super Bowl tickets,” Bob Mariucci said, “but there’s still a need for the individual teams to do their own fundraising. We’re still trying to raise funds and maintain the program that we’ve had.”
Mariucci said cutting softball was never the plan, and he remained in contact with the remaining returning players as they trained with assistant coach Henry Valaau, who will stay on to assist this season, during the fall.
The team expects to be short on pitching after former Paso Robles High standout Stacie Salazar left the team to take an athletic scholarship at Vanguard in Costa Mesa after just one season at Cuesta.
Still, six starters return from last season’s team including all-conference outfielder Alex Ramirez, catcher Breanan Silzer and infielders Alyssa Giordanengo, Brittani Gregory, Sam Hughes and Nicole Monroe.
“When you don’t see anything for so long,” Steuerwald said, “you hear about things. ‘Yes, we’re getting a coach. Yes, we’re getting a coach,’ and still nothing, it makes it tough. I’m thoroughly impressed with the job the sophomores did leading each other through the fall and also Henry Valaau did a great job being there directing.”