Home is where the coach is: Amy Tudor returns to WKU to lead program she started

WKU’s new softball coach, Amy Tudor, visits WKU’s field on Monday, Feb. 3. After graduating from WKU, Tudor coached at Belmont University before coming back to the Hill to lead the team she once represented. (Brian Powers/HERALD)

Austin Lanter

The WKU softball team played its first season in 2000 and last year went to its first ever NCAA tournament. This year, however, the team will be led by one of its own: Amy Tudor.

Tudor, a 2002 graduate of WKU, returns to her alma mater to lead a team she helped start. A three-year captain of the Lady Toppers, Tudor left her head coaching job at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne to come back to the Hill.

“It’s pretty special,” she said. “I think it’s a unique opportunity and when it presented itself, I felt like this was the place I was supposed to be. I feel very fortunate and blessed to be able to come back home.”

Tudor became the fourth coach in program history when Athletics Director Todd Stewart hired her in August. The job became available after former coach, Tyra Perry, left to become the head coach at Ball State University.

Tudor said that the program is still fairly young and that it is heading in the right direction.

“When we started off the program we were all excited and it was fun, and we ended up second in the league that year beating (Louisiana) Lafayette,” she said. “I think it’s always been a pretty solid program, and last season they finally made it to the postseason, which is a huge step in the right direction.”

Tudor said when she was a player here she never thought she would come back and coach. In fact, she wanted to be a lawyer and graduated from WKU with a degree in history and social studies and a minor in geography.

She was also involved on campus and experienced success in the classroom. She was involved in the Golden Key Honors Society and Kappa Delta Pi. She was also rewarded for her academic success as a six-time member of the Dean’s List, was named an All-American Scholar and was the recipient of the Commissioner’s List Award.

Although she wanted to be a lawyer, she said coaching helped her stay involved in the game, and when the opportunity came about to return to WKU, she “jumped on it.” 

She said the campus and city have changed since she was here.

“You know, the stoplights are still annoying,” she said. “I can see the improvements that have been made on campus. But I thought when I went to school here that everything was nice, and they continue to upgrade it. It’s a nice, small southern town and I enjoy it.”

Not only did she want to stay involved in the game, she said coaching as a whole is very rewarding.

“For me, it’s seeing a kid have success,” she said. “It’s so enjoyable to see a kid who has maybe never experienced the postseason or never experienced being on a winning team go out and accomplish something no one else thought they could do. And helping that kid go along in academics…and watching them graduate is huge.”

Despite living and going to school here for a few years, Tudor said that she is not comfortable being back at her alma mater, and that she is definitely experiencing nerves in regards to her first season.

“I will never say I’m comfortable,” Tudor said. “I would say if you get comfortable then you need to stop coaching. There’s always a good set of nerves.”

Although she was hired in August and has been around for a few months, she said the transition over to the new coaching staff for the team was a little bumpy in the beginning. She attributed this to different coaching styles, but the adjustment overall has been positive.

“I think we’re getting adjusted very good so far,” she said. “We’ve only been back for a week and a half and, you know, we’re looking to getting our season started on a high note.”

Senior pitcher Emily Rousseau agreed that the transition took some getting used to at first.

“I think now it’s been really good,” she said. “We all just had to get used to each other in the beginning like any normal team would have to do. Now that we’re all in the same rhythm, it’s going really well.”

Another senior, infielder Olivia Watkins, said that life in general was about adjusting, and becoming familiar with a new coach is something that many teams have to go through constantly.

“Life is about adjusting,” Watkins said. “Now it’s good…Any other team has to do the same thing.”

Tudor has nine years of head coaching experience, including four years at IPFW where she posted a .680 winning percentage. Before that, she was the head coach at Belmont University where she led the Bruins to 36 wins — the fifth most in program history. She also coached at Ohio Wesleyan University, a Division-III school, and was a graduate assistant at North Alabama, where she received a Master of Arts degree in counseling.

This experience of coaching at all different levels has taught her a lot, she said, including things not to do as a coach.

“I’ve learned to listen, and I think that’s the most important thing,” she said. “I try to listen to what they’re saying and not expect them to do everything you say right at that moment. Every year I change…not my philosophy but my drills and different ways for them to understand.

“Another thing to go with listening is patience,” she continued. “Letting things unfold a little bit and trusting that your players are going to do the right things. Not always ruling with an iron fist. I’d say I’ve become a lot nicer in my old age.”

Although Tudor’s coaching style overall has changed throughout the years, Watkins said that all coaches really expect the same thing, so the transition to the new coach was not extreme.

“Coaches expect a lot out of their players, so it wasn’t anything drastic or anything,” Watkins said. “I mean, it was all the same if you really think about it.”

Tudor is hoping to build off of the success that the team had last year led by Perry. Last year the Lady Toppers went 43-18 overall and 20-3 in the Sun Belt Conference, good numbers for the school’s first-ever regular season conference championship.

The season ended for WKU in the first round of the NCAA Division-I Regionals. The team was able to record a pair of wins against USC Upstate in the Regional Round but lost twice Alabama.

Because of that success last year, Rousseau said the bar has been raised for the program.

“Absolutely (the bar has been raised),” she said. “That was one of the things we talked about. Last year we didn’t really have a target on our back. We were ranked number six preseason out of the conference and we ended up being number one, so we kind of defied the odds. But I think it definitely puts a target on our backs this year.”

That experience with postseason play that the players had last year is going to help the team this year, according to Tudor.

“That experience that the kids that returned have, we’re going to build on that,” Tudor said. “I think once you’ve been there you get a good taste in your mouth and want to go back. With our coaching staff, we’ve been in the postseason so we’re kind of familiar with what it takes. Everything kind of has to fall in a row for it all to play out.”

Tudor and the Lady Toppers will open the season this Friday, Feb. 7 against Liberty in Fort Myers, Fla., in the FGCU/Four Points by Sheraton Invitational.