In a pinch, Stuart leads Falconer to ‘C’ title

OBSERVER Photo by Jon Sitler Sadie Stuart led Falconer to a 14-2 record and a Section VI Class C title this past season.

Sadie Stuart seemed like a perfect fit to take over the Falconer softball program.

Ten years prior, Stuart herself was a senior standout at Falconer when the Golden Falcons won a Section VI title.

A Post-Journal, All-Western New York and Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 1 first-team all-star, Stuart also earned second-team all-state honors during a banner high school playing career with the Golden Falcons.

After an outstanding college softball career at Allegheny in Meadville, Pennsylvania, she spent three years as an assistant coach at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, before returning to the area in late 2018 — named the Jamestown Community College’s women’s softball coach prior to the pandemic shutting things down.

“I was not coaching at all for a few years when this opportunity came up at Falconer,” said Stuart. “It made me realize how much I missed it and was excited to do it again.

“I transitioned into coaching immediately after finishing my senior season at Allegheny College, taking an assistant coaching position at the University of Mary Washington,” added Stuart. “I wouldn’t say the transition is or was difficult, but it takes some time and learning to change gears from a player’s mindset to a coach’s mindset, in all aspects.”

That vision probably never included a pandemic that would make coaching far more restricted.

Stuart’s first practice for the spring 2021 season — again, her first as head coach — wasn’t until the end of April.

“I didn’t know some of their names,” said Stuart. “I had them running drills and I had them say their names before they went.”

The more things change the more they stay the same.

“Being on Falconer’s field again this spring, just like I was 10 years ago, did make me think about missing being an actual player at times,” said Stuart. “My grandparents came to home games this year and sat in the same spot out in left field that they did when I played; so turning around in the third base coach’s box between plays, I saw them just like when I turned around at shortstop between plays — talk about deja vu and bringing a tear to my eye.”

Spoken like someone ready to take on the role of head coach.

“As a player, my best memory would have to be the postseason run to states my senior year,” she said. “I don’t really remember many specific games or plays anymore, though, honestly. We had a solid group that year, with quite a few of us going on to play after high school. It was fun and a happy ending to our senior year. I’m glad I had a hand in that for this year’s senior class, too.”

On the very day Falconer’s softball team would have five of its seniors graduate, the Golden Falcons won their first sectional title since Stuart’s senior season in 2011. While a late start due to COVID restrictions halted a state tournament, Falconer’s 2021 team had its own postseason run — with three home playoff wins in front of a “packed house.”

The top-seeded Golden Falcons earned a 7-0 Section VI Class C quarterfinal playoff win over visiting No. 8 Randolph; came from behind in dramatic fashion to walk-off Westfield 4-3; then defeated Portville 13-3 for the sectional crown.

“Some of my best memories from this season are the little ‘wins’ that happened during our games that we had been working on, that the average person may never notice or have known when watching,” she said. “A certain player finally choosing to hit an outside pitch to the right side to score an RBI, instead of pulling it and grounding out again; an outfielder deciding how to field a ball based on the coverage around her and the base-runner situation to make sure no one advances; our base runners executing detailed aspects of offense. It makes me so proud to see them take their game to the next level in those ways. I’ll pick those days as a coach on the field over any that I had as a player, any day.”

Falconer’s 14-2 season, ending with nine straight victories, took two months. For Stuart, a lot happened in those two months.

“On top of those detail-oriented successes, I am most proud to coach the mental and emotional components of the game,” Stuart said. “Handling pressure, keeping composure individually and as a team, relying on and trusting each other, developing and harnessing their own confidence — which can be so elusive during this stage in their life.

“Our backs were against the wall a couple times and we came back or pulled off last-minute wins,” Stuart added. “We played some teams that had opposite strengths than us, and some had the same strengths as us, (and) we found ways to beat both.”

Asked to coach in a pinch, Stuart was ready to step up. Now, she’s the 2021 Post-Journal/OBSERVER Softball Coach of the Year.

“I don’t think I ever realized I wanted to be a coach until I was one,” Stuart said. ” … The previous head coach (at Falconer), Andi Gunnell, who I played with, she reached out and asked if I would take over this year as she was about to have her second baby this spring. I pretty much had no hesitation in accepting the opportunity. … I couldn’t leave this team hanging without a coach. About three weeks later in March, I found out I was also pregnant. A nauseous first trimester made things pretty difficult once we started in late April, but I had a lot of help from my assistant coach (Mike Youngberg), fiancee and family. The players, baby and I had a lot of fun out there this season together, and it made this spring even more memorable.”


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