Season brings coaching milestone for MC's Holly

By Ivan Sanders
STAR STAFF
isanders@starhq.com

   When a coach begins his career, his only desire is to teach those athletes he comes in contact with more about the sport that he has grown to love, with the hopes his understudies will gain that same admiration for the sport as well.
   Wes Holly, the head softball coach at Milligan college, recently reached a milestone many coaches cannot even fathom thinking of, and that was achieving his 400th career win as head coach of the Lady Buffs, in his 15th year overseeing the program.
   "It was something that the girls began keeping up with because we entered this season, with a 372-229 record in the last 14 years here at Milligan," stated Coach Holly. "The 400th was a great milestone as it came in a win over the University of Virginia at Wise, one of our major rivalries in the conference, in the finals of the loser's bracket in our recent tournament."
   Wins at any level are not accomplished for a coach without being able to have a proven track record of attracting a talented group of players to come on board. Coach Holly will be the first to admit that his success could not have occurred without the girls that have worn the Milligan uniform.
   "You have to give all the credit to the girls because I have had a pretty successful program since I have been at Milligan, but a coach is only as good as his players," said Holly. "It's just in the record book as the 400th win, but again I'm very thankful to be at Milligan and for the contributions made by the girls to make our program successful."
   Holly is an alumnus of Unaka High School, where he played baseball for one of his mentors, Coach Claude Holsclaw. Holly vividly remembers the times he played against other coaches who helped mold his career like Coach VanHuss, Coach Bayless, Coach Broyles, and Coach Aldridge.
   His love for the sport of fast-pitch softball developed after playing the game for 23 years, with people like Jarfly Dugger. That compassion has carried over not only in his career, but also in the life of his son, Wes Holly Jr., who assists his father with the program at Milligan.
   "I started out by being an assistant coach at Tusculum College, where my daughter played, and we went somewhere around 175-62 in four years," said Holly. "I am proud of what we accomplished at Milligan because we started out as a slow-pitch program, then transitioned into the fast-pitch arena, where we got on the map pretty quickly with the girls we brought in."
   Holly prides himself on bringing the local talent to Milligan and was especially pleased to sign Elizabethton standout Sarah Smith to a scholarship, the first player to sign anywhere from EHS. Milligan has also had a drawing power in bringing in strong players from out-of-state due to its affiliation with the church as well as its educational standards.
   Said Holly: "I really feel well about the continuity of this program. The mark of a good coach is when you have those up and down years and can still maintain continuity while going through those lean times until you can get those good teams, in where you can achieve those top goals and things of that nature."
   Added Holly: "I really didn't think about reaching a milestone like this when I started. My main goal is to be consistent with our program and to be competitive within our conference and other schools we play. Year in and year out we play a very strong schedule to be such a small NAIA school like we are. We will play a lot of division II teams and will play any division I school that will give us a game. We've had three conference titles, two district titles, a regional title, and a trip to the Nationals."
   After achieving such a milestone, one might wonder if there is anything else a coach might want to accomplish in his career. For Holly, the answer is a very simple one -- to win a national championship.
   "A national championship is the only unfinished business we have as a coach," stated Holly. "A championship is very hard to come by because when you get to that point, you are one of the top 20 teams left in the country, so you have to play to win it.
   That's a hard time for girls, anyway, because they have just finished their finals or graduated. Getting them to focus on the task at hand is hard, but that is the responsibility of the coach -- to get his team prepared to be competitive."
   Many people may wonder how much longer Coach Holly will remain at Milligan, as retirement is always a tough decision to make. Holly looks to a couple of factors in determining when he will be ready to hand the Lady Buff coaching reigns over to someone else.
   "I look at it this way, as long as you don't get burnt out and you still have an enthusiasm for the game, which I do, then you can be successful as a coach," quipped Holly. "It is hard to put a year to the point where the loss of those things might occur."
   With the discipline and love of the game Coach Wes Holly has, many more milestones may be reached before retirement rolls off his tongue.
   One thing is a definite, Milligan will continue to have a solid women's fast-pitch softball program with Coach Holly steering the Lady Buffs down the road of success he has been a part of in fashioning a 402-271 ledger while at Milligan College.