Brittingham named Henlopen Conference Coach of the Year
Erika Brittingham has been named All-Conference in the Henlopen as a pitcher for Sussex Central High School. She’s been named All-State, and even All-American, pitching for Salisbury University at the collegiate level.
However, in just her first year leading the Indian River High School softball team, Brittingham has been awarded conference honors for the first time, without taking the mound — recently being named the Henlopen Conference Coach of the Year.
“It’s a good honor, because it’s from the other coaches,” Brittingham said of the recognition. “It was nice for our coaching staff, because I don’t feel as [the award] is just mine. Abbi [Buchler] and Katherine [Bennett] put in just as much work as I do, and it’s well-deserved.”
The coaching trio of Brittingham, Buchler and Bennett brought both a wealth of recent playing experience and new dynamic to a young Lady Indians’ squad — two factors that have been instrumental in the team’s 2014 DIAA playoff run.
“Since we played at the college level, and knowing that’s where the girls want to go, we know what to prepare them for,” Brittingham explained. “I think that’s been to our advantage this year. We know how hard to push them and what they’re gonna see at the next level.”
Not only did Brittingham credit first-year assistant coaches Buchler and Bennett, but she noted that, without not only impressive play but good sportsmanship from the girls, the award wouldn’t have been possible.
“We wouldn’t have got that if it wasn’t for our girls,” she adamantly stated. “Our girls play hard, but they don’t play nasty. It really shows what we’re coaching them and how we want them to act on the field.”
When an award goes to a coach with Brittingham’s reputation for not being distracted by extraneous factors, such as stats and personal accolades, it wasn’t surprising when she put the focus back on her seniors. As a player herself, Brittingham had been an All-State pitcher, which is why she’s so proud of pitcher Rachel Hudson, shortstop Karlie Smith and second-baseman Ana Impastato, who were All-State selections this season.
“Getting an All-State award as a player — you don’t really know what goes into it until you’re a coach and see how many girls actually are going for it,” she said, to put the achievement in perspective. “Seeing the competition that’s out there, I explained to my girls it was tough to get what you earned, and you earned that, so you need to play like you earned something like that.”
With all the awards, honors and recognition that her squad has been receiving this year, Brittingham knows that it’s easy to get wrapped up in the accolades and lose focus of the team’s ultimate goal: winning a state championship. Her emphasis on both not looking past any game and keeping the focus on winning as a team, over individual performance, is one of the factors that have made her so successful — both as a coach and as a player throughout her career.
“We’re not going for stats. We’re not going for awards. We’re going for the wins,” she said. “I don’t care if all of our batting averages are .300 and we don’t have any All-State players. If we’re playing in the tournament, that’s what matters.
“I never knew my stats in college, never knew what awards I was getting,” she added. “I was the last one to know about everything for my personal achievements. I really didn’t care about that. Being the pitcher, I cared about making sure I did my job to get the win.”
The award comes after Brittingham spent last season as the team’s assistant coach, but she noted that her role had changed upon taking over this year — and she made sure the girls knew that.
“Being a female assistant coach last year, the girls come to you with their personal problems, and I had to let them know in the very beginning that I was no longer filling that role,” she explained. “I thought that would be my biggest thing to overcome.”
In her first year as head coach, Brittingham led her squad to not only a DIAA playoff appearance, but a win over powerhouse Caravel — one of the state’s top teams and one that they hadn’t defeated in years. Despite the success, she still maintained that she has a lot to learn.
“It’s just like teaching. You learn something new every year that you’re going to take with you, and what I learned as an assistant coach prepared me a little bit for this year. But now I really know what I need to hit hard next year.”
As of Coastal Point press time on Wednesday, May 28, the Lady Indians were set to face Charter in the quarterfinals of the DIAA playoffs.