When West Orange softball head coach Todd LaNeave suffered a heart attack last month, it meant assistant coach Kelsey LaNeave — his daughter — and the team would have to come together.
There always was going to be some adversity for the West Orange softball team this spring.
Coming off of back-to-back state championships, the Warriors had graduated several significant players from those teams — including one of the best pitchers in the nation in Lauren Mathis, now a freshman at Georgia.
But the expected adversity of regular roster turnover was overshadowed when head coach Todd LaNeave suffered a heart attack earlier this season, around mid-March, and had to have triple-bypass surgery.
Suddenly, LaNeave’s assistant — and daughter — Kelsey LaNeave was thrust into the role of head coach, all while anxiously awaiting updates on how her father was doing as he navigated a life-threatening situation.
About a month has passed since then, and after a successful surgery, Todd LaNeave is on the road to recovery.
And as her father continues along that road, Kelsey LaNeave has stepped up nicely into the role of head coach — and the Warriors (15-7) have stepped up and come together on the field, going 11-4 during that stretch.
First-year Athletic Director Jerry Shafer recently praised the way Kelsey LaNeave has managed a tough situation, noting how fortunate the program is to have two people capable of acting as head coach for a program of its caliber.
“This year, people are seeing more of (Kelsey LaNeave), but you’ve got to think — you don’t make two state-title runs without great assistant coaches,” Shafer said. “Kelsey could go anywhere and be really successful — it’s not a surprise to people who’ve been around her.”
Kelsey LaNeave said years of working for her father as an assistant coach and head coach for the Warriors’ junior varsity team have prepared her such an occasion.
“I’ve been out here enough and I’ve watched my dad enough to kind of know what he would do in certain situations,” Kelsey LaNeave said. “That definitely helped, and even though he’s been (absent from practices and games), he’s still been in my ear pretty much every day.”
Of course, as important as it has been to have had someone in place who could lead the team as a coach, it has been dually important for the team’s players — and especially its seniors — to rally together.
“We all look up to (Todd LaNeave) as kind of a ‘second dad,’ and they’re our second family,” senior catcher Julia Sniffen said. “Knowing he was in some sort of danger hit us all really hard. The seniors kind of stepped up, and we’re helping out as much as we can.”
Todd LaNeave attended his first game in more than a month last week when the Warriors defeated East River 11-1 in six innings. He will not return as a coach this season but anticipates returning to the classroom and his coaching role in the fall. After West Orange put the finishing touches on its dominant win over the Falcons, he praised the way his daughter has led the team in his absence.
Now, the Warriors are gearing up for the FHSAA Class 9A, District 3 Tournament, which it will host beginning Monday. They will contend with district rivals, including Apopka (18-4, 10-0 district), which has swept West Orange in two meeting this spring and is the district’s top seed.
Although the context with which the opportunity came about was undesirable, Kelsey LaNeave said she has learned a lot while getting her feet wet as a varsity head coach for the first time.
“I definitely enjoy it,” Kelsey LaNeave said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have been around a lot of these girls before and to have been their head coach before — it’s not anything foreign, but it’s definitely a different level from JV to varsity.”
And after a few weeks of leading the team on her own, Kelsey LaNeave said she has a good idea of where her coaching style differs from that of her father.
“I’m a little more vocal, and I get a little more heated — though I’ve dialed it back a bit,” Kelsey LaNeave said. “He’s definitely ‘Mr. Mellow.’”