Amanda Lehotak, Gross Catholic alumnae of 1999, recognized a good opportunity when she saw it.
That’s why the chance to be the head softball coach at the University of Texas-San Antonio was something the former Gross standout couldn’t say no to.
Lehotak is in her first season with the Division I program, guiding them to a 20-22 record and a 9-5 mark in the Southland Conference as they enter the final stretch of regular season play.
The 1999 Gross graduate took over the Roadrunner program after turning around the University of Jacksonville’s softball fortunes in her five seasons as head coach.
By her fifth season, Jacksonville had won a school-record 44 games and advanced to its first-ever NCAA tournament.
Then she got the call from UTSA.
“Jacksonsville was great because they allowed me as a young coach to make young mistakes,” Lehotak said. “I wasn’t looking to leave, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
“Jacksonville is a private institution and UTSA is a state institution, so the upside is so much greater. Everything fell into place.”
Lehotak spent her five years at Jacksonville trying to build a program that knew nothing about success. She said the task at UTSA has been different because the Roadrunners have tasted success in their history and finished 28-27 a year ago.
“It wasn’t as rough here because they’ve been to regionals and had success,” Lehotak said. “We just had to get back to a winning mentality and revitalize the program.”
Lehotak didn’t take over the Roadrunner reins until July 1, meaning she had little impact on recruiting this first season. While the recruiting is now taking form for the 2013 season, Lehotak said the biggest challenge in the transition was getting players accustomed to playing her style of ball.
“The fall was a little tough because things were so different,” she said.
“I’m from Nebraska and I have a strong work ethic. I demand that my players have that same work ethic and have respect for the game and play it the right way.
“Once they knew what I was talking about, they began to buy in.”
Lehotak was an all-state player at Gross before spending two years at the University of Mississippi. She left the Rebels after two seasons to finish at UNO, earning third-team All-American status as a Maverick.
She set a high standard for herself as a player and has done the same as a coach. But she is careful not to compare current players to herself.
“That was something I struggled with my first couple years as a coach,” she said. “But each individual is different and you have to understand and motivate each of them.”
Lehotak comes from a family that knows a little something about coaching softball.
Her father, Ed, was her coach at Gross and also spent more than a decade as the head coach at Bellevue University before taking over as the school’s athletic director. Amanda’s older sister, Michala Cimino, is now in her third season as BU’s head coach.
“Michala and I talk between two and four times a week,” Lehotak said. “We’re always talking coaching and she does a great job of challenging me and debating with me. She’s done more for me as a coach than she’ll ever know.”
As Lehotak is in a new chapter of her career, the UTSA program will embark on new horizons of its own when it joins the Western Athletic Conference in 2013.
It’s another step in the career path Lehotak set for herself when she began coaching nearly a decade ago.
“I’ve always set my standards high,” she said. “I wanted to be a Division I head coach by the time I was 30 and I got my first chance at 25. Then I wanted to coach a program in a stronger conference by the time I was 35 and we’ll be there next year.
“It’s a little scary how quickly all of this has happened but very humbling as well. Coaching has given me the opportunity to give back to the game.”
Story by Eric Taylor, Sports Editor, Bellevue Leader. Published in the April 25, 2012 issue of the Bellevue Leader.