Eileen Hannigan is the first head coach for the Wolverines after previously working as an assistant at a Division I college program and for years before that as an instructor and travel coach.
Eileen Hannigan has had trouble staying away from the diamond since about the time she could walk.
“My mom and dad will tell you I could hit a ball pitched to me at 18 months,” said the first head coach for the Windermere High softball team. “I was born to play the game.”
Of course, at first, that game was baseball.
Growing up in northern Virginia, Hannigan played baseball — not softball — until she was a freshman in high school. There, she traded the baseball diamond for the softball diamond, and although there were some challenges within the tradeoff, it wasn’t long before the passion translated.
“I think it was the friendships that I built in the first six months of playing the game (softball),” Hannigan said. “It was something that I saw a new opportunity in.”
In the two decades after that decision, the new opportunities have continued to come: A scholarship to play college softball at Colorado State University, a career training youth softball and baseball athletes and coaching club softball, a stint as an assistant coach at Purdue University and — most recently — the task of building the Wolverines program from scratch.
There and back again
When her playing career ended, Hannigan finished her undergraduate studies at Colorado University in 2003 with a degree in sports psychology. Taking some time away from the game after an injury in 2001 had ended her playing career, she continued her studies at Boston University, earning a master’s degree in counseling with an emphasis in sports psychology.
It wasn’t until 2005 that she returned to the sport through Frozen Ropes, where she began to coach and teach the game in the Boston area.
“It kind of turned into that I could make a career and living teaching kids the game I love."
“It kind of turned into that I could make a career and living teaching kids the game I love,” Hannigan said.
In 2006, when Frozen Ropes opened a franchise in northern Virginia, Hannigan took the opportunity to relocate to her home state, where the softball scene was much more robust. Four years later, she parlayed her experience into opening her own company, Goin Yard, a softball instructional company through which she worked with teams and individuals.
It was during her time working on the training side of things that Hannigan also began to coach travel softball.
At first coaching for the Vienna Stars, she eventually began coaching with the Jersey Intensity, a well-known travel program. That experience helped build her résumé, and in 2015, she took on the role of an assistant coach at Purdue University. There, in addition to focusing on the team’s defense, she also got the chance to be on the other side of the recruiting coin from her role as a travel coach — this time hitting the road and looking to bring in recruits, in addition to immersing herself in the minutiae of the game.
“The experience I have from being at the college level is just how to almost break the game down to an exact science,” Hannigan said. “It’s hard to do, but there are always patterns you can find and things you can look for.”
Winding up at Windermere
When Kim Schuette, the head coach who had hired Hannigan at Purdue, resigned in July 2015, Hannigan took the opportunity to relocate to the Orlando area and work for Diamond 9, a softball and baseball events company. She also resumed coaching for Intensity at the program’s national level.
It was during a period when she was looking to add to her plate that coaching for an actual high-school program came on her radar. Hannigan got a tip about the opening at Windermere as the school was preparing to open in the fall of 2017 and, although she wasn’t interested at first, the idea lingered, and she eventually called a trusted friend to seek out some guidance.
“She (Hannigan) came in, and her personality just lights up the room. We sat down, and we looked at her résumé and realized how much experience she has — it was a no-brainer.”
— Mike Grenci, Windermere High Athletic Director
“I said, ‘I’m really bored — what do you think of me taking on high-school softball?’” Hannigan said. “My friend said to me, ‘I think you’d be amazing at it, and I was actually going to suggest it.’”
This was in early May 2017, and from there, things moved quickly. Told to contact Fred Priest, Windermere’s current football coach and the school’s athletic director at the time, it was only a few days later when she sat down with Priest, Windermere Principal Doug Guthrie and current Athletic Director (then assistant athletic director) Michael Grenci.
“She (Hannigan) came in, and her personality just lights up the room,” Grenci said. “We sat down, and we looked at her résumé and realized how much experience she has — it was a no-brainer.”
Hannigan said she received a phone call within a few hours of the interview’s conclusion and was offered the job. Then came the latest unexpected opportunity — originally figuring she would be an off-campus coach, an opportunity arose given her academic expertise to teach Advanced Placement Psychology.
“A couple months in, I think (teaching is) the greatest decision I ever could have possibly made,” Hannigan said. “(The kids) make my day amazing. Getting up at 5 a.m. was not something I ever wanted to do, but yet I look forward to it.”
Starting from scratch
After a meet-and-greet with interested players the second week of school, Hannigan put together a fall team for the Wolverines and that group of mostly sophomores and freshmen went 7-1 during an eight game season.
Now, in addition to her teaching duties, she is hard at work rounding out the preparations for the team’s first season this spring. From picking out uniforms, offseason conditioning and strength training with the team, to coordinating with Windermere High baseball coach Eric Lassiter on how to improve the complex the school’s baseball and softball programs share, Hannigan has been busy laying the foundation for a program — something she hopes her athletes embrace, too.
“The one thing I want them to know is we get to start it all,” Hannigan said. “What we set, the precedent we set, is kind of how the program hopefully will go.”
“My goal is always to make you a better athlete and human in the time I spend with you. If we win some softball games, obviously that’s good — and when I say ‘some,’ I mean a lot.”
Coming to the Horizon West/Windermere area and being familiar with the success of the Windermere Wildfire travel organization, as well as that of neighboring West Orange High — the school which many of her players would otherwise have been zoned for before Windermere opened — Hannigan said she understands how important her program will be to the community.
She also understands she will be coaching a program with many players with aspirations of playing at the next level and — given her experience in travel ball and at the college level — said she is ready to do what she can to help.
“I see the value in travel ball and … the amount of time that those coaches and those athletes spend working together, I’m appreciative of it,” Hannigan said. “Travel ball still is very much how these girls are going to get to that next level, and my job is to work with those coaches and help these girls have opportunities. We all (coaches) should be going it as, ‘If they want to get there, how can we help?’”
While trying to focus on player development and setting a solid foundation for a first-year program with no seniors, Hannigan is also eager to win from the start. More importantly though, the new leader of the Wolverines softball program is hoping to have a program whose athletes make their community proud.
“My goal is always to make you a better athlete and human in the time I spend with you,” Hannigan said. “If we win some softball games, obviously that’s good — and when I say ‘some,’ I mean a lot.”