Danielle Henderson’s love of softball brings her back to coach UMass

  • Longtime UMass softball coach Elaine Sortino poses in this 2012 photo with former player and Olympic gold medalist Danielle Henderson on the day the softball field was dedicated to Sortino. Henderson is the new softball coach of the Minutewomen. JOSH KUCKENS/GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Former UMass softball coach Elaine Sortino poses with former player and Olympic Gold Medalist Danielle Henderson and the Minuteman mascot in this 2012 photo Henderson is the new UMass coach.

Staff Writer
Published: 7/1/2021 11:36:23 AM

Danielle Henderson’s love affair with softball took her around the world. She’s pitched for Team USA and won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics.

It also brought her back to Amherst to take over as the UMass softball team’s newest head coach.

“I love the sport. This is my life, my passion,” Henderson said. “I’m going to put everything into it.”

While leaving UMass Lowell, where she’d spent the previous seven seasons, was challenging, taking over the Minutewomen felt like coming home.

“Once you arrive back on campus at UMass, it’s hard to not do it. I fell in love with that place when I was like 17, 18 years old. Those feelings always seem to come back every time I arrive,” Henderson said. “Just seeing what the administration is doing with the athletic department and what their plans are with the softball program, I knew meeting with them that this was a no-brainer.”

Henderson is on the Mount Rushmore of UMass softball. The three-time All-American is the program’s all-time leader in earned run average (0.71), shutouts (71) and threw three perfect games. The Minutewomen went to the College World series twice in her tenure. She also played three seasons in the National Pro Fastpitch league.

Her coaching career started in 2000 as an assistant with UMass for three seasons. She returned to the profession in 2011 as an assistant at Ohio State. Henderson spent one year as UMass’ associate head coach in 2014 before taking over the River Hawks.

“UMass has always been important to me,” she said. “It was a place once I got back into it I always thought I would be back at. It was more of a dream to be a head coach of this program.”

Now she has to turn her dream into the program’s reality. UMass last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2012, its last Atlantic 10 championship.

“It’s about bringing in and surrounding yourself with those type of players and getting after it every single day,” Henderson said. “I want to have a championship culture. I want to win that Atlantic 10 championship. The more we can get those players surrounding us with that same thought and belief puts a lot of purpose into everything they do.”

The potential exists. UMass has won 23 A-10 tournament titles and reached the NCAA Tournament 21 times. That includes three trips to the College World Series.

“In talking to some of the players I think that they believe what UMass is — that history and culture. I was somebody who was a part of it. I think the team wants to be a part of it, too,” Henderson said. “You don’t know how long it’s going to take. It could happen this year, it can happen in two years. If you’re hoping it will be built and happen in years, that time gets doubled. You get after it right in September when we start.”

It’s difficult to mention the UMass softball program and not touch on legendary coach Elaine Sortino’s impact. She led the Minutewomen for 34 years until her death in 2013. Henderson wants to keep her legacy strong in Amherst.

“She saw potential in me. The four years with her and her working with me that did that. She pushes people to do more than they think they can,” Henderson said. “In my time as a head coach, there’s so many moments of great moments that happen with the team, it would make me sad because she would be the first person I would pick up the phone and talk to and share these things. I think that she teaches you this stuff and how to be able to handle of  this. She lives on through us.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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