Fresno State’s new softball coach brings veteran talent to new team

Fresno State announces Stacy May-Johnson as new softball head coach on July 2, 2021. (Cary Edmondson/Fresno State Athletics)

From winning world cup championships for Team USA and being 2011 USA Softball Female Athlete of the Year, Fresno State’s new softball head coach Stacy May-Johnson remained humble, setting aside all her accolades and achievements.

May-Johnson is focused on the goals she has now for the team and the players. Rather than putting the spotlight on her and what she’s done, the head coach wants her players to know the focus is on them. 

“Honestly, it’s not about me or my history,” May-Johnson said. “Nobody really cares about my batting average my junior year of college… I want [the team] to see a real-life person that’s just standing right in front of them.”

On July 2, May-Johnson was announced as the fifth head coach in Fresno State’s history. Knowing only a couple of days before the announcement, she moved from Utah to Fresno with her husband Nate Johnson, her daughters Corrie and Emma and her 16-month-old son J.D. 

May-Johnson is at the helm of a program that has had many up-and-downs the past couple seasons. The team was on an historic run in the 2020 season before the pandemic cut it short, being ranked No. 1 in the Mountain West and No. 24 nationally. 

Then, the previous head coach Linda Garza was placed on administrative leave on April 19. She then stepped down two months later and signed a deal to be the head coach of conference-rival Nevada. The Bulldogs also lost several players who entered the transfer portal or graduated. Along with 2021 pitcher of the year Hailey Dolcini, at least four other players have transferred out for the season in August. 

Despite the challenges that come with her arrival, May-Johnson has a successful track record. 

As an outfielder for the University of Iowa, she received multiple All-Big Ten selections. Professionally, she played for the Chicago Bandits of the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) for five years. She was the 2006 NPF Rookie of the year, two-time NPF MVP and three-time all-star.

May-Johnson led the Bandits to two championships and is one of six players to have her jersey retired for the Bandits.

In 2011, she was selected for the USA Softball National team. While she won athlete of the year, she led the team to two gold medals for the World Cup of Softball VII and the 2011 Pan American Games. She was also selected as defensive MVP in USA’s second-place finish in the 2011 Canada Cup. 

While May-Johnson was a student, she began coaching in 2007 as a student assistant. She was part of the coaching staff for Iowa and the University of Louisville.

She became the head coach at Utah Valley University for the past two seasons and improved its overall winning percentage to .507. She led Utah Valley to 24 wins which were the most for the programs since 2013.

May-Johnson said learning from people like Hall of Fame softball coach Gayle Blevins has molded her philosophy and coaching skills. She credited others for her growth throughout her career as a player and coach. 

“I always tell people everything I do is stolen. Everything is stolen, especially the good stuff,” May-Johnson said. “That’s the great thing about our sport is people are willing to share. They’re willing to help other coaches grow, and so I’ve had a great opportunity to learn under some amazing coaches.”

Director of Athletics Terry Tumey and Senior Associate Athletics Director David Hall were the main recruiters to get May-Johnson to Fresno State. She was excited about Hall and Tumey’s leadership and direction for the athletics program. 

Growing up in Reno, Nevada, May-Johnson always heard about Fresno State and described them as a “powerhouse” on the west coast. Idolizing former Fresno State coaches like Margie Wright, she is prepared to fill in big shoes for Fresno State.

Despite the pressure, May-Johnson said the transition and support from Fresno State have been great. In her introductory press conference at Fresno State, Donna Pickel, one of the first softball coaches for Fresno State, was present to support. Tumey, Hall and her family were some of the many others present to celebrate her new position.

“You know, certainly none of us can achieve greatness without great support behind us, and so I’m grateful for that,” May-Johnson said.

Her goal as a coach is to develop these players beyond athletes but as young women.

“We want to prepare them for the life that’s ahead of them,” May-Johnson said. “Life isn’t all raindrops and lollipops and sunshine. There’s hard moments, and our women are going to be prepared for that.”

Working quickly as Fresno State’s head coach, May-Johnson built up the roster by utilizing the transfer portal for players and coaches. On July 28, Shelby Graves joined as the team’s pitching coach and Whitney Arion as the hitting coach. 

Graves and Arion both coached alongside May-Johnson in Utah Valley. 

Almost half the softball team are also new to the program as well. May-Johnson helped recruit nine players into Fresno State – six transfers and three freshmen. She also coached two of those players at Utah Valley.

Having players and coaches from Utah Valley helped with her transition into Fresno. May-Johnson said it helps build chemistry into this new team. 

“As far as staff goes, it’s nice not having to train them to know what we do,” May-Johnson said. “It’s just one less step that we have to take to get us going in the right direction.”

Arion, Graves and the newly recruited players were picked because they were the right people for the program, May-Johnson said.  

Having a young team excites May-Johnson because she is trying to set “the foundation for the next 20 years.” She said this is the team that’s able to do that. 

The softball team is looking to replicate its success that it once had in 2020. Before the season was cut short due to COVID-19, Fresno State was ranked No. 1 in the Mountain West and No. 24 nationally. 

Although the softball season starts in February, the team is working on player development for the fall season.  May-Johnson said players like outfielder Keahilele Mattson, last season’s Mountain West player of the year, will be expected to step up another level. Also, seniors like pitcher Danielle Lung are expected to be great leaders for the team. 

But May-Johnson said the priority is on team development.

“Nobody’s bigger than the team,” May-Johnson said. “I’m not bigger than the team. None of the players are bigger than the team. We’re all in this together. We’ve assembled a team that we think is capable of winning a championship.”

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