By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (May 20, 2016) — It was dressed up and billed as a press conference, but with Mark Cumpian already named the new head coach, Friday morning’s festivities in Wisdom Gym were more of a celebration of where the Tarleton softball program has been and where it aims to go in the future.
Cumpian was named head coach earlier this week, and the university’s athletics media relations department confirmed the promotion of the sixth-year Tarleton assistant coach in a press release Thursday afternoon.
Julie Mata resigned after 20 years as head coach last week, saying she is looking for another career opportunity. She led Tarleton to 569 wins, No. 34 among active head coaches before her resignation and in the top 70 all-time. The TexAnns reached the national playoffs four times and won the 2015 South Central Region I Tournament under her guidance.
Athletic director Lonn Reisman compared the promotion of Cumpian to that of women’s basketball coach Misty Wilson, who was assistant coach under Ronnie Hearne before being promoted to head coach following the 2013-14 season.
“It was a historic moment with Ronnie Hearne stepping down and Misty Wilson taking over, and this is a significant moment in history for us, too,” said Reisman to begin the press conference. “(Mata) has developed our women’s softball program into one of the prominent programs in the Lone Star Conference and nationally. It’s hard to say goodbye to somebody who has done so much for this university and this athletics department.”
Mata, who also played basketball at Tarleton and reached the NAIA Division II Women’s Final Four, reflected on what the university has meant to her life, saying she met her husband, Jose Mata, on the Wisdom Gym court, he proposed to her on the court, she cut down the nets on the court and graduated twice on the court. All that was before Ronnie McMillian cornered her one day and told her she needed to be head softball coach.
“Literally the first time I was talked to about the softball job at Tarleton I was standing right here,” she said, pointing to a spot in the floor immediately beside her at the podium in the lobby of the gym. “Ronnie McMillian came up and said, you need to be the head softball coach, you can do this. And I spoke to Coach Reisman next, and he took a shot on me.”
After 14 seasons with four different assistant coaches, Mata brought Cumpian into the program. He was previously a student assistant at Howard Payne, where he once was a relief pitcher for the baseball team.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to hire him. My husband and my brother told me (I should), but I didn’t know him. But the thing that told me Mark was the guy for the job was his attitude,” Mata explained. “For the first time I had a guy who would say, ‘Coach don’t do that I got that…” I know that Mark, and Mark with Stefanie (Phillips, who is staying on as assistant coach) are going to do such a good job of keeping our core values and championship softball going.”
With that, Reisman returned and introduced the third softball coach in school history.
“I’d like to thank (Tarleton president) Dr. (Dominic) Dottavio and Coach Reisman for this opportunity and I’d also like to thank my mentor, Julie Mata, for the last six years,” Cumpian began before a long, tearful pause. “She’s gotten me ready for this moment right here and right now. It’s just a great honor and feeling to be up here and to continue to work for Tarleton State University.”
He has high expectations for the program he now leads.
“We have a great group of returners with a good (recruiting) class that will be here this fall. This team is equipped to win and win right now,” Cumpian said. “We’re going to emphasize our core values and work hard not only on the softball field but in the classroom, in this community and around the university.” These young ladies are going to continue to get a quality education and we will continue to graduate them year-in, year-out, the way we have always done.”
He even touched on recruiting.
“We need to lock up about six more kids going into the season,” Cumpian said. “The next few weeks are going to be spent signing players we believe will elevate the level of softball played at this institution.”
Watch for more on Tarleton softball recruiting and the direction Cumpian plans to take with the TexAnns, coming soon to The Flash.