The Anderson ascension: Chronicling Larissa Anderson’s journey to helm of Missouri softball
Anderson, others discuss Hofstra success and what’s to accomplish at Missouri.
Jul. 21, 2018
“You better hire me because if you don’t, I’m going to come back and beat you.”
Those were the only words former Hofstra softball coach Bill Edwards needed to hear to make up his mind on bringing then-LIU Post assistant Larissa Anderson onto his staff in 2001. Anderson still remembers that moment clear as day.
“When the job opened up at Hofstra ... I knew it was going to be my job to take,” Anderson said. “I was a Hofstra groupie; I went to all their camps; I picked coach Edwards’ brain.”
Edwards spent 25 seasons at the helm of the Hofstra program and, between serving as a mentor to Anderson, helped coach the Pride to a 928-419-3 record over a quarter century. The National Fastpitch Coaches Association hall-of-famer also made 15 NCAA Tournament appearances, won 18 Colonial Athletic Association postseason tournament championships and earned 10 CAA regular season titles.
“He’s sitting there and his feet are up on the desk,” Anderson said, “and he goes, ‘So, what are you thinking right now?’
“It’s a no-brainer,” Anderson recalls replying. “It’s a no-brainer that I’m the right person for the job, and if you don’t hire me I’m going to go somewhere else and I’m going to come back and I’m going to beat you.”
With that, Edwards offered Anderson an assistant position, where she climbed the ranks of the Hofstra staff, serving as an associate head coach for a decade then overtaking the head coach position after Edwards’ retirement in 2014.
According to Edwards, his relationship with Anderson continually flourished.
“It was a good match,” Edwards said. “It was a good relationship. It was something that grew over a period of time. She grew into being a pretty good associate head coach, which says a lot for her ability to go after what it is that she really wanted and she wanted to become a head coach … You could see that she had a plan, had goals and the ability to stay focused.”
Anderson’s journey to Columbia has been one years in the making. From her years at Hofstra, going even further back to her time growing up in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, she’s been a competitor and someone determined to pave her path to the highest level.
From ski slopes to ball fields
To be clear, Larissa Anderson is not an Olympian. She’s just competed against Olympians and trained at their facilities.
Around age 8, Anderson began downhill skiing and competed in the sport through high school. Competing for the Gore Mountain Ski Club, she made their Eastern Cup team.
According to Anderson, that was “kind of the next level” and she competed against “future Olympians.” She also trained at Olympic Facilities in Lake Placid, including Whiteface Mountain.
With the amount of training Anderson was doing at such a young age, it taught her a lot about self-discipline.
“I would train slalom,” Anderson said. “You spend hours studying the course prior to — I mean here’s a 15-16 year old studying the course and then having to actually be able to close your eyes and visualize exactly what that course is and then race for 60 seconds.”
That discipline and precise visualization was something Anderson quickly applied to softball.
“When I realized how valuable visualization was, I took that into my own personal game as a hitter and a pitcher; being able to close my eyes, visualize what I wanted to do, see the strike zone and then being able to execute that skill.”
Softball began for Anderson about the same time as skiing and she quickly progressed — playing all over the field, joining all-star teams. She fell in love with the sport, but it wasn’t until her sophomore year of high school that she realized just how deeply she had fallen.
“I went to the New York state championships and I saw my first windmill pitcher,” Anderson said. “I pitched all through high school but I was slingshot [pitching]. I threw hard, but that’s how I threw because that’s all I ever knew, and then I saw my first windmill pitcher and was just blown away.”
Anderson told her high school coach she wanted to try out the windmill style.
“She told me, ‘Well, if anyone can do it, you can,’” Anderson said. “And that message has resonated with me my entire life.”
With that message in mind — and after spending three days at a fastpitch summer camp — Anderson quickly learned to pitch windmill. That next season, she led her high school to a state championship.
Building her program
When Edwards retired from the Hofstra softball program in 2014, he knew Larissa Anderson would be his successor, and he wasn’t the only one who knew it.
“We had a system down to where she was going to be the next head coach,” Edwards said. “Everybody knew it within our university, everybody knew it within our recruiting phase, everybody knew it within our alumni and our boosters. They knew that once I retired, she’d be the heir apparent.”
That transparency was something well-deserved. Over 13 years as one of Edwards’ assistants, 10 of those spent as associate head coach, Anderson helped Hofstra to 24 NCAA Tournament wins and six Regional appearances. She also helped her hurlers, coaching nine CAA pitcher of the year award winners in 10 years.
Anderson’s promotion only saw more success, as she led Hofstra to a 38-14-1 record and a conference championship in her first year. However, her tenure as the program’s head coach saw varied success. Although she had two NCAA Tournament appearances and two conference titles, seasons two and three finished with records of 24-22 and 27-23, respectively, and little to no hardware to show for it.
While it didn’t bring success every year, Edwards thinks Anderson’s experience prepared her as best as possible to be a head coach anywhere she went.
“It shows she can win when she has the talent and it also shows she can go out and get the talent because three years later, she was back in the mix,” Edwards said. “It’s a pretty good situation for her and a pretty good timeline that she was able to put the program back where it was. It was a good proving point of her ability to recruit, ability to maintain the program, ability to bring in players and at the same time coach those players to a conference championship.”
According to Anderson, a big reason those two seasons in between conference championships saw scattered success was due in part to poor recruiting decisions.
“I cut some corners to try to get the better talent,” Anderson said. “We would have pitching for a year, talented pitching, but not the right personnel. It made me realize I’ve got to do a better job in making sure we’re recruiting the right people for the right university.”
When discussing that lesson, Anderson brought up a name. “It’s Herb Brooks.”
Quoting the former USA hockey coach who led his team to the “Miracle on Ice” win over the USSR in the 1980 Olympics — a win which occurred about an hour from Anderson’s hometown — she said:
“I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones.”
Shortly after Anderson told Bill Edwards she would come back and beat him if he didn’t hire her, she let him in on a personal goal of hers.
“She told me many years ago that one of her goals is to get to the Women’s College World Series,” Edwards said. “I know that she would not have taken the Missouri job if in fact she didn’t think that she was going to be able to successfully complete the task.”
When asked about reaching the pinnacle of softball with her new Missouri squad, Anderson had a simple response, the answer of a realist.
“We have the ability to, but we have a lot of work to do.”
For Anderson, there’s work to do in a lot of places, as she’s with a completely new program, but one of the first steps for the Missouri coach will be wiping the slate clean of former coach Ehren Earleywine, who was fired just before the start of last season. Earleywine had a tumultuous relationship with former AD Mack Rhoades and saw players transfer after accusations of verbal abuse.
Anderson was candid about Earleywine in an interview. She believes that, in order for her program to succeed, it needs to move forward.
“I want to have so much respect for coach Earleywine and what he did for this program over his tenure here,” Anderson said. “Unbelievable talent, great success. Played at a very, very high level and I will never take anything away from what they did while he was the head coach here … but I have to make sure that I am my own person.”
Anderson said she not only needs to “mend some of the wounds” of her new players, but she needs to harbor a culture that’s “family first” and says “I’m with you.”
“They went through a really, really tough year, an emotional year,” Anderson said. “And they persevered and they got through it. But I do have to listen to some of their concerns … And then we have to get over it. We have to turn the next page and we have to start looking to the future, but I have to pay attention to what their needs are.”
Brielle Pietrafesa, a right fielder for Anderson at Hofstra, hammered home the sentiment that Anderson’s culture is very much family first.
“It’s more like she’s my mom more than my coach,” Pietrafesa said of Anderson. “She really stresses the family aspect and I feel like even though Mizzou had some turmoil with the coaches, she’s going to bring everyone together.”
Getting out of the locker room and onto the field, Anderson cited both her personal coaching and recruiting philosophies to better the program. Her first goal? Keeping the best Missourians home.
“When I look at this roster,” Anderson said, “and I see that there’s someone from the state of Missouri or even our border states that has gone outside of our area to another institution? I take that very personally.”
It’s a strategy Anderson prided herself on at her introductory press conference, as she heavily recruited the New England area while coaching at Hofstra.
One of the bigger aspects for success Anderson pointed to was finding the new identity of the Missouri Tigers.
“Once I work with this team,” Anderson said, “I’ll really figure out what our identity is going to be. You can’t go in and say we’re going to be great at everything. We’re going to be strategic in how we plan our team and we manage our team.”
Anderson sees her Tiger team as one with a high ceiling, but she speaks as though the journey to hitting that ceiling will be a gradual one.
“I said this to the team during my press conference, that finishing in the bottom of the conference is not acceptable,” Anderson said. “That we should have higher standards than that and this year we have to go in and say, ‘We’re going to get in the upper half and then once we get in the upper half, we’re going to get in the upper third,’ and we’re going to work our way, building ourselves back up to give us an opportunity to compete, first, for that SEC championship, and then an opportunity to go to the World Series.”
Anderson’s gradual goal-setting presents a realistic ladder for the Missouri softball program to climb. Anderson is someone who speaks with realism, but perhaps Anderson at her most optimistic came when asked just how much she had left to accomplish.
“Oh, there’s a lot to accomplish for me,” Anderson said. “I’m not going anywhere and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Edited by Bennett Durando | firstname.lastname@example.org