Birchfield named Watauga Conference Coach of the Year

Published 3:38 pm Sunday, May 26, 2019

When the last out had been made at the end of this year’s softball season, the Cloudland High School girls’ softball team could be proud of their season.

They had finished with a 23-16 record and had their coach, Matt Birchfield, named Watauga Conference Coach of the Year.

Along the way, the team went deep into the Watauga Conference District Tournament and came within two games of going to the sub-state round of play.

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Not bad for a school that is known for its basketball and football teams and a town that puts little importance on baseball or softball. Those attitudes are changing, however, and their coach, Matt Birchfield, has a lot to do with that.

Birchfield has been at the helm of the team for the last two years and has built the team from the ground up. This year’s squad reflected his philosophy and his coaching style as they outhustled and outplayed many larger schools that should have beaten them easily.

This is the first time that Birchfield has ever coached softball on the high school level, but he has found a formula that works – teach the fundamentals, emphasize hard work, and play smart ball. These techniques made him successful during his time as a coach of Cloudland’s middle school softball team, and if this season is an indicator, his philosophy is working well on the high school level.

“We have some very good kids on this team”, said Birchfield. “They put in a 100% effort every day, and we are lucky that most of them are returning. We only had one senior on the team.

“Most of the team this year were sophomores, and that really helps us. We have something to build on, especially since we still have our pitchers and a very good infield.

“Add to that an outfield that is very athletic and can get to the ball anywhere on the field, and we should win some games in the future.”

Birchfield, along with his assistant coaches, Sam Potter and Jason Hicks, are trying to change the way the community thinks about softball and that is no easy task.

“We are known as a school with good basketball teams and a good football team year after year but most of the community doesn’t expect us to have winning softball and baseball teams,” Birchfield stated. “I hope we can change that. If we win some games, we will expect to win every game we play, and that builds confidence in the kids and the team.

“Also, I am trying to show the team that you need to work on your fundamental skills during the off-season, and this is something we have never really done at this school.

“When softball was over, we would lay the balls and bats down and pick up a basketball or football,” continued Birchfield. “But these kids need to know it is like any sport – success begins in the weight room and your preseason preparation. The games will always reveal who has prepared and who has not.”

When asked what being named Coach of the Year meant to him, he said it was all about the kids.

“It doesn’t matter how many personal awards I win, but it is how can I help those girls be better ballplayers,” stated Birchfield. “That is what it is all about. If I can help them and show them how they can improve and build their confidence, that is reward enough for me.”

The Cloudland High softball program is heading in the right direction and with Matt Birchfield and his staff leading and teaching these girls the fundamentals of the sport, they should stay a winning program for the near future.