Florida International U

FIU volunteer assistant softball coach demands excellence

She plays a well-known sport and has as many Olympic medals as Miami Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

But it’s a good bet that few sports fans know Kelly Kretschman’s name.

All three aforementioned athletes live in South Florida, but it’s Kretschman — who won a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics and a silver in the 2008 Games — who remains a mystery to most everyone except fans of international softball.

Kretschman, 33, is a volunteer assistant coach on the FIU softball team. She’s also an active player in National Pro Fastpitch, a league with teams in Chicago, Akron, Pennsylvania and Orlando. The NPF, under that particular name, has been around since 2002, and Kretschman is the right fielder and bats third for the Florida Pride, which plays its home games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista.

FIU Coach Jake Schumann served as a Pride assistant this past summer, and that’s where he met Kretschman.

“She was bugging the crap out of me (about a coaching job),” Schumann said. “I told her those were already taken. She said she would volunteer, and I said ‘absolutely.’

“I would be an idiot not to take a two-time Olympian and a 10-year pro on my staff.”

Kretschman serves as FIU’s first-base coach and helps Schumann and assistant Gator Rebhan with the hitters. Schumann has also given Kretschman “full autonomy” to work with the outfielders on defense.

But Kretschman’s influence doesn’t end there. She also gives the team its pre-game pep talks, and, during a recent practice, she was working with first baseman Stephanie Texeira on her defense.

“She’s not afraid to challenge me,” Texeira said. “In practice, she kept hitting rockets to me. No matter if I was on the (ground). Right when I got back up, she hit it to the other side. It was full on, rapid fire. You had to dive to catch it.”

Kretschman, who has 16 tattoos, including the five Olympic rings on her right wrist, was an intimidating presence when she first arrived on FIU’s campus.

“The girls didn’t know how to take her at first,” Schumann said, “but she’s a sweetheart of a person and one of the best coaches around.”

Texeira said Kretschman made an impression earlier this season, when she knew just what to say to the freshman after a bad game.

“She pulled me to the side and said: ‘Look, I know what you’re going through. I’ve gone through the same thing. You’re not alone.’

“It was the best pep talk ever. From then on, I’ve been looking up to her a lot.”

Softball is Kretschman’s full-time job. When she is not playing or at FIU, she is giving private softball lessons or holding clinics on the game. She wants to eventually have a full-time Division I coaching job — hopefully at FIU — but sees herself as more of an assistant.

“I’m not ready to be a head coach yet,” said Kretschman, a native of Indian Harbour Beach. “It’s not just coaching the kids — it’s administrative stuff.”

Kretschman hit .437 with an equally impressive 60 homers during her four-year career at the University of Alabama, leading the Crimson Tide to the College World Series for the first time in school history.

She’s hoping to lead FIU to similar heights — the Panthers have never been to the CWS — and that’s why she is so tough on her players.

“I think they were a little nervous when they met me. They know now that I like to have fun, but I want them to work hard as well,” Kretschman said. “That’s the only way to make people better is to expect them to be great all the time.”

Kretschman said the most gratifying moments for her this season have been when her outfielders have made diving catches. That’s when you will see big smiles — from players and Kretschman alike.

“She gives off the vibe that she’s tough,” Texeira said of Kretschman. “And she is tough.

“But she has a side that tells us that she loves us, too.”