Bison Athletics

Preseason Interview with Softball Head Coach: Darren Mueller

Darren Mueller has been a staple of Bison Athletics for 22 years and is one of the most prominent softball coaches in the nation.

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Darren Mueller has been a staple of Bison Athletics for 22 years and is one of the most prominent softball coaches in the nation. We spoke with him about the upcoming season, trying to return Summit League supremacy and more.

You guys play a ton of big time opponents: Oregon, Maryland, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Auburn and Utah, how do you think that will help your team prepare for the conference season?

You know, I think we hope it kind of just slows the game down. Last year, we purposefully didn’t schedule as heavily as other years. We just didn’t have as good of a year as before. So, we wanted to kind of change our scheduling. And then, this year, we wanted to go back to what we did previously, especially with our team being as young as it is. We want to throw them into the fire and see what we can learn out there.


You have a lot of experienced players, but also a lot of young players that you are going to have to rely on during key points in the season. How are you using this valuable time in the offseason to prepare those younger players for that, especially with this being the ultimate failure sport?

We’re trying a couple of different things. Sometimes, we slow things down and just kind of do more explaining. But, there are also times when we just try to put more pressure on them and just speed the game up a little bit, because that’s how it’s going to feel when they get there. They’re going to kind of put that pressure on themselves a little bit. So, we try to try to attack them from all different angles.

When you play against those power five opponents, you don’t know what it’s like until you get in there. I think what we are doing is similar to what Dave Richman did with basketball this year. They played Arkansas and Kansas right away.

I imagine those big games allow you to shine a brighter light on the deficiencies that the team needs to work on to get where you want to be by the end of the season.

Yes, that’s exactly what happens. What’s happened in the past, and I’m assuming it might happen with this year’s team, is the game will get fast for them early on when you’re playing some teams that are ranked. It’s about just taking that and learning from it. We want to get them to understand how important the mental side and the preparation are. Even the way we react to things is super important as well—the good and the bad. It’s a balancing act trying to take the good and bad things. You want to string the positive things together you’ve done as an athlete, but you also don’t want to get too ahead of yourself because it doesn’t take much to bring yourself down by overlooking somebody.

What are some of the things you are doing to work on the mental aspect of the game? Are you doing things like meditation circles or what?

We’ve done that in the past. One example of things I’ve been working with someone on this year is a pitcher of ours who has been working on just slowing things down for herself. In the game, she really just gets amped up, she’s got adrenaline going. We’ve worked on some specific things like even what she’s aiming for. She’s also getting to the point where she can trust her movement and understand that she doesn’t have to try to just blow it by someone every time. That has been great for me to hear as a coach because she’s been picking up on what we’ve been talking about.

That’s just one example. Everybody has their own different thing so you try to just learn more about them and what you can do for each one of those people.

What do you think some of the strengths of this team are?

The pitchers have done a good job so far, but I think that’s because we have two seniors— that helps in that aspect. The whole team is working hard. Since day one, it’s just been a different mentality. Last year’s team was a lot of fun, and they did a really good job, but I think this year’s team is kind of building off of that. Last year, we kind of talked a lot about how to get back to what our tradition was because we didn’t have the best year. They’ve kind of built off of that. I think the leadership of our upperclassmen does a really good job and even Anjolee [Aguilar-Beaucage] coming in as a transfer has kind of stepped in and taken some of those leadership roles. I’m happy with the middle infield—they do a good job defensively. Our biggest challenge is going to be our freshman, which are talented, seeing if they can adjust to the speed of the game.

Can you tell us about those incoming players and what we can expect from them?

I’ll start with Anjolee. She transferred in from Grand Canyon University and she’ll be our shortstop this year. She had a really good second year there and then a new coach came in with some players and she didn’t get to play as much. So, when we looked at her a little bit, we looked a little bit deeper and saw that she had played a little bit and we talked with her coach. She has come in and made a big impact on our team, like I mentioned, even just off the field with her personality and her leadership. On the field, she has a very, very good glove, a strong arm and a strong bass. She is a good replacement for Nicole Licea. We’re really proud of her and looking forward to seeing what she can do this year.

Piper Reed is one of our freshman pitchers. I think for her, you can just see that she’s grown. She has picked up, I think, three miles per hour on her pitches since she came to school. She has some good movement and really good work ethic. She’s somebody that has pitched in big games before in her travel career. She and Zoe King, a catcher and another freshman, played for one of the top programs in the country. Pretty much every one of their teammates are probably at a power five school right now. So, they’ve already played against some of the best players in the country year in and year out. I think bringing that experience on the mound is going to help us, and then with Zoe behind the plate, we get the same thing with her just having that experience catching Piper and catching other high-level pitchers. Also, as a hitter, she’s got some pop to her bat. She’s coming back off of a little bit of injury this past fall, but now she’s coming back and getting fully healthy right now. She’s starting to swing the bat a little better.

Bella Dean is a utility player right now—middle infield and first base. Again for her, she has pop. That bat is really starting to pick up, but she has had a tougher transition as a freshman, having to learn three positions. We’ve had those conversations and are trying to make it simpler for her just to kind of learn.

Riley Leadstrom is another good shortstop that swings a good bat. We’re kind of moving around two or three positions to try to learn even though we know she’s good at shortstop. She’s got good speed and is a smart base runner. I think she’s gonna utilize some different roles for us in that aspect.

Ella Claus is an outfielder and a lefthanded hitter that’s got some good pop in her bat, a good arm and some good range defensively. There’s a chance for her to be in the outfield a little bit for us this season because that is one of those positions we are kind of looking at.

Ava Chavarria is another one that can play multiple positions. She is very athletic. She catches, plays outfield and has played some first. She has got power in her bat and good speed. I think all of them really can contribute this year.

We did an interview with Emilee Buringa a while ago when she was more of just a slap hitter. Now, she is an all-around player that was second on the team in home runs. What has it been like to watch a former walk-on like her develop the way she has?

It’s been pretty cool. She’s done a great job and Kayti Grable has done a really good job working with her as a hitter. The way Emily came in this fall, I honestly think she could be Player of the Year in the conference. She’s got that type of potential. She just develops day in and day out. She’s got pop in her bat. She’s got really good speed and a strong arm. She’s got a great attitude and just continuously works to get better every single day.

How often does the team talk about getting that conference title back?

We talked about it on the first day when we were setting goals. Now, we’re on to more of those boring topics that coaches talk about—the process and staying within getting better each day. We just know, it’s so far away for us to even try to get to that before conference season even starts. This team is very hungry and wants to. It’s one of the reasons Paige Vargas came back. She wants to win, and wants to win in every aspect. This is a very competitive team, probably the most competitive team we’ve had in three years for sure. So when it comes to that aspect, I don’t really have to say a whole lot either, because we know what we all are fighting for and working towards.


  • 2000 NCAA Division II National Champions
  • NCAA Division II National Tournament, 3rd Place (2003), 5th Place (1999), 7th Place (2002)
  • 2009 NCAA Division I Tempe Super Regional
  • 2017 NCAA Division I Norman Regional Participant
  • 2016 NCAA Division I Seattle Region Participant
  • 2015 NCAA Division I Eugene Region Runner-up
  • 2019, 2014 NCAA Division I Minneapolis Region Participant
  • 2018, 2012 NCAA Division I Tucson Region Participant
  • 2011 NCAA Division I Tempe Region Participant
  • 2010 NCAA Division I Seattle Region Participant
  • 2009 NCAA Division I Norman Region Champions
  • 2003, 2002, 2000, 1999 NCAA North Central Region Champions
  • 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 Summit League Tournament Champions
  • 2019, 2018, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2008 Summit League Regular Season Champions
  • 2002, 1999 North Central Conference Champions
  • 2000 Speedline Division II National Coaching Staff of the Year
  • 2016, 2015, 2009 NFCA Division I Midwest Region Coaching Staff of the Year
  • 2003, 2002, 2000, 1999 Speedline Division II North Central Region Coaching Staff of the Year
  • 2019, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2008 Summit League Coaching Staff of the Year, 2002 North Central Conference Co-Coach of the Year
  • 2007, 2006 Division I Independent Coach of the Year
Preseason Interview with Softball Head Coach: Darren Mueller
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