When Larry Hays first called Rich Wieligman about playing baseball at Lubbock Christian, he didn’t even know where Lubbock was.
“He told me it was flat and you could stand on your toes and see for 20 miles,” Wieligman said. “He promised that I would play a lot of baseball and I was sold.”
Now, the current Oklahoma State softball coach is bringing his own team to face off against the Red Raiders.
Sitting in sixth place in the Big 12, Texas Tech (28-14 overall, 1-5 in Big 12) enters its third conference series this weekend against Oklahoma State, a team coached by a familiar face in Wieligman.
“There are other people I’d rather try to beat than him,” Tech head coach Shanon Hays said.
Wieligman played baseball at LCU from 1982-84 and was a part of the 1983 NAIA National Championship team.
At that time, Hays was still in high school at Monterey.
“I was always around the team and looked up to him as a player,” Hays said.
Hays played for his father, Larry, on the Red Raider baseball team from 1988-90 before transferring to LCU — where he actually started his college career — eventually becoming a graduate assistant and pitching coach at the university.
“Rich was the hitting coach and assistant coach for Jimmy Shankle at Lubbock Christian,” Hays said. “We’ve been friends all the way through.”
Wieligman played professional baseball before he began his coaching career at LCU in 1991, and a few years later, Hays and Wieligman both decided to play fastpitch softball in the Amateur Softball Association (ASA).
“Of course Dad got him playing softball,” Hays said. “He had never played before. I remember Rich’s first softball game back when they had city men’s fastpitch softball. I remember his first game, him hitting and thinking he’d never hit it before. He turned into like a four-time ASA All-American.”
Wieligman then began his coaching career at Baylor and went through Texas Tech and Texas A&M before he was hired at Oklahoma State for the 2007 season. Hays began his coaching career in a different sport, men’s basketball. He coached the sport for nine years, including one year as as Athletic Director at Abilene Christian.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Hays took his first college softball coaching position.
“When I decided to get into college softball, he was one of the reasons why, because he told me what a great experience it was for him,” Hays said. “He said it was something I would really enjoy”
That year, Hays took the job to lead Lubbock Christian in its inaugural season of softball.
“I just helped him out with questions he had,” Wieligman said. “He had been playing softball and baseball his whole life, including fast pitch. Really, it was an easy transition to go into coaching softball. He’s a lot like his dad because he loves coaching. He’s always been successful.”
After three seasons at LCU, Hays was hired at Texas Tech in 2010. When Hays was putting together his staff, he got a little help from Wieligman.
“When I was looking to hire a pitching coach, he knew Aly (Sartini) was at Arkansas and was close with Aly,” Hays said. “He’s the one that recommended Aly to me to bring in as my pitching coach.”
In the middle of his fifth season, Hays is already the winningest coach in program history (293-107). In 2011, Wieligman’s daughter, Ashby, was a manager for Tech softball and is currently on track to graduate this May.
As for Wieligman, he has returned Oklahoma State softball to national prominence, leading the Cowgirls to their seventh Women’s College World Series appearance in 2011.
Wieligman returns to Lubbock with his Oklahoma State team that is 22-16 overall and 2-5 conference record with wins over Iowa State.
“People in Lubbock are special,” Wieligman said. “I spent a lot of time in Lubbock going to school. My wife is from there. It’s just a special place. I really appreciate what it brought me in my life. It’s always good to come back.”
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