Abby Gillan ready for second stint as Hays High softball coach
After being around softball for most of her life, Abby Gillan decided to take a break from the game back in 2015, stepping down as Hays High softball coach after a successful seven-season run.
The plan was to return to coaching when the timing was right, and Gillan believes that time is now.
Gillan was introduced as Hays High head softball coach on Wednesday.
"I had just recently started thinking about maybe getting back into coaching and I was kind of weighing my options," Gillan said. "I had coached basketball and softball in the past and was just trying to figure out what would work best family wise; I have an 18-month old.
"Then on the last day of school I had heard there might be a potential opening, and I thought, you know, maybe this is the time. I decided to throw my name in there and see what happens, and everything worked out. I'm ready for my second stint."
Gillan, formerly Maska, guided the Indians to a 101-54 record and three state tournament appearances in her first stint as Indians' coach from 2009 to 2015.
"I thought I would always get back into coaching; I just needed a break," Gillan said. "Softball had been something that I had done nonstop since I was a little kid. ... I just never really had a break. I wanted to get more involved in my professional organization, Hays NEA.
"In those seven years (between coaching stints), I got married, had a kid. I just kind of feel like I'm in a different place now and will bring a little bit different perspective and a little bit different life experience to the job."
Gillan, a Hays High product who played softball at Fort Hays State, coached the Indians to their last WAC title in 2011. They finished fourth at state that year.
"I think a key to those successful time periods in Hays High softball really goes back beyond what's happening during the high school season," Gillan said. "It takes a lot of people who are committed to helping kids get better. I would say really strong summer teams were an essential and key part of the successful teams."
She said the Indians will play to the strengths of their personnel.
"We used a lot of the short game, I like to run kids fast," she said. "And then in some of the more dominant years, I had more power hitters. It's just figuring out your personnel and what their strengths are and trying to coach to that.
"I just try to be adaptable to what the kids want. My coaching philosophy — if you talk to any of my former players — I have high expectations. I hold kids to those and push them really hard to meet those expectations."
Gillan said she saw a few Hays High softball games this past spring. The Indians went 12-9 on the season.
"They're young," GIllan said. "I was telling the girls today, I think I knew more kids when I first took the job in 2009 than I do now. I haven't had a lot of the kids in class. They all get a clean slate because I have no preconceived notions about any of them. I'm just going to see what they can do on the ball fields and what they'll do in the offseason and the weight room. That will be the way they can really set the tone for what I can expect from them.
"I just know there's a lot of talent there. I'm excited about it. They're a young team, but now that tide will kind of be turning as a lot of them become juniors and seniors. It sounds like it's going to be a fun group to work with."
A long-term goal for Gillan is to "grow the program and have as many kids out for softball as possible.
"In the short term, with the group that I have here now, I would just like to see us go deeper into the postseason. We have one of the strongest regions in the state. If we want to have success in the postseason, we're going to have to play with some of the top teams in Class 5A."
The Indians are set to return three players who received All-WAC recognition last season. Freshman pitcher Aubree Thomas earned first-team honors for the Indians while freshman infielder Lakyn Zimmerman and junior designated player Brenna Schwien were second-team picks.
She said her immediate focus is getting her players in the weight room.
"Athleticism is huge," she said. "They've got the talent, they've got skills — we can always work to get better at that — but, man, if we could add more speed, more strength, that's just going to take everything to the next level."
Gillan said it's an exciting time for athletics at Hays High.
"It's really appealing to get involved and help build that culture, especially on the girls side of athletics, building off what's happening in soccer and basketball, track and field and volleyball," she said. "I think there's a lot of exciting things happening. A lot of young talent and some great kids and families that I'm really looking forward to working with."
Gillan, who teaches sociology, American history and U.S. government at Hays High, met with the team for the first time Wednesday.
"I think the message I've always carried to students is that we're student-athletes and that I'm always going to have a really big emphasis on working hard in the classroom and the classroom coming first," she said. "And then after that, we're going to be people who play the game with integrity and honor. And if we can do those things it will make us really great teammates and everything else will take care of itself."