STARKVILLE — Every graduate school student has to complete an internship.
Kelsi Dunne is taking a unique route to fulfilling her obligations.
Dunne, a former All-America pitcher at the University of Alabama, is getting graduate school credit for her work this spring as a volunteer assistant coach with the Mississippi State University softball team. Dunne’s two paths will meet at 7 tonight when No. 2 Alabama takes on MSU in game one of a three-game weekend series at the MSU Softball Field.
“It is ironic she is getting course credit (for this), but everybody has to do an internship in her program, and her department head at Alabama was super excited about her having this opportunity,” said MSU softball coach Vann Stuedeman, a former assistant coach at Alabama. “She’s looking forward to the weekend. Trust me.”
Dunne, a four-time All-American and two-time SEC Pitcher of the Year at Alabama from 2007-11, accepted a position as a volunteer coach at MSU so she could finish her master’s degree in sport management at Alabama. She is expected to graduate in May.
“I was ecstatic when I found out I was going to be a volunteer coach in Starkville because I knew the cupboard there was already filled with young, talented players,” Dunne said. “To be back with Vann and to have the opportunity to wear Maroon and White every day was something I was extremely excited about as we all help take this program to new heights.”
Stuedeman, the Crimson Tide’s pitching coach in Dunne’s four years at Alabama, jumped at the chance to add Dunne to her coaching staff because she is teacher of the game.
“Sometimes great players are not great coaches because all they know is how to do it,” Stuedeman said. “She’s not that way, and she has a great eye and picks up what needs to be corrected. (She is) very much like a mechanic in an auto shop, where most of us just hear a noise, the mechanic will pick up where that noise is coming from and be able to diagnose the problem. (Kelsi) can do that with players.”
At the very least, Dunne can help MSU’s hitters by pitching against them every day in practice.
“If one of our girls gets a hit off Kelsi then they feel like they can do it against anybody in the country, and should feel that way,” Stuedeman said.
Dunne’s situation is one of the many connections between the programs that are 83 miles apart. This is the first time Alabama will take on MSU since Stuedeman took the job in Starkville. Her major challenge this season has been to elevate MSU to the level she helped Alabama attain in her 11 seasons as pitching coach. At Alabama, Stuedeman helped six pitchers to 11 All-America honors. She also helped the Crimson Tide win three Southeastern Conference championships and make six appearances in the Women’s College World Series.
“A good friend of mine once said you don’t meet Vann, you experience Vann,” Stuedeman said. “I feel like my personality is really showing in this team and with these girls. The excitement and passion for the game will show through.”
MSU assistant coach Alan Reach was a student manager under Stuedeman and Alabama coach Patrick Murphy at Alabama from 2000-02.
“Coach Reach’s personality has allowed us to dub him the mad scientist,” Stuedeman said. “We’ve developed a culture and Alan is a major factor in that.”
Reach coached at Tuscaloosa County High School from 2005-11. In his time there, he coached current Alabama senior outfielder Jazlyn Lunceford. With Lunceford, Reach led the Wildcats to Region 5 titles in 2006-08.
Reach and assistant coach Beth Mullins have been instrumental in reconstructing MSU’s offense. The Bulldogs are tied for third in the SEC with 260 hits this season. MSU has nine triples, which is tied with Florida for the league lead.
“The two of them have instituted a mind-set that offense is how many times we as a team cross the dish,” Stuedeman said. “How we do it isn’t as important as making sure we’re crossing that plate the best way we can. That’s teamwork.”
Not only did Reach graduate from Alabama, but his sister, Jennifer, also was a four-year starter for the softball from 2000-03. Jennifer is fourth in school history with 267 games started. She recorded Alabama’s first hit in the Women’s College World Series on May 25, 2000, against UCLA.
Despite having planned to have more than 200 friends and family watch the weekend series, Stuedeman is trying to downplay the significance of the weekend and to turn the intensity back to her
team as it continues to fight to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“We are going to focus on Mississippi State softball this weekend and what it takes for us to be successful,” Stuedeman said. “It does not matter what name or color is on the jerseys across from us. This series is about the game, the players that play it, and their opportunity to play in the best softball conference in America.”