MARYVILLE, Mo. — The Northwest Missouri State softball team has been led by coach Ryan Anderson since 2007. That changes in 2021 with the winningest coach in program history stepping down.
Naomi Tellez was in middle school when Anderson first took over the Bearcat program, but just because she is young doesn't mean she lacks big-time college softball experience. That experience has earned her the chance to be the 10th head coach in Bearcat history.
“Excited is kind of an understatement,” Tellez said. “I'm thrilled. … When I left campus after my interview, there was a fire lit inside of me. I just couldn't wait to get back and was just hoping that I would get the opportunity to lead this program and really build an amazing softball program.”
Northwest Director of Athletics Andy Peterson echoed that feeling.
"I'm excited for Naomi to join our team," Peterson said in the Bearcat press release. "She's a young and energetic up-and-comer in the profession and we're lucky to have her at Northwest. It's a unique situation for the program, so it's going to be fun to see how the young women respond to the change of pace and a fresh start. We have a history of first-time head coaches doing very well as Bearcats. We are eager to get Coach Tellez here and support her and the Bearcat softball team as they move forward."
That college experience began for Tellez as a player when she signed with the University of New Mexico out of high school. As a sophomore, the catcher hit .369, and led the team in doubles with 11 and homers with seven.
She transferred to DePaul University for her junior and senior seasons. As a senior in 2016, she was a First Team All-Big East catcher and was also an All-Big East Tournament selection. She hit .366 as a senior and led the team with 10 home runs.
“Throughout my college career, I had coaches who really, really cared about me as an overall human being and really wanted to develop me in every aspect of my life, so that is what I'm looking forward to bringing to the table,” Tellez said.
After her college catching career, she transitioned into coaching and began as a graduate assistant at Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska.
“Seward really opened my eyes to how much I would enjoy the Midwest,” Tellez said. “I went right from Chicago, a crazy city, to Seward. That was a drastic change, but I really enjoyed the small town and the Midwest. I am really looking forward to getting back to that.”
She spent three seasons as the University of North Dakota pitching coach. In those three seasons, the team earned run average made dramatic improvements each season. It went from 5.23 in 2019 to 4.71 in 2020 and 3.63 in 2021.
“Here at North Dakota being alongside our current coach, Coach (Jordan) Stevens, he has definitely has really given me the push and the confidence that I can run my own program,” Tellez said. “He'll laugh at it, but I have been able to see more than a lot of assistants see. I have been able to get my hands on a lot of administrative things which I thank him for. It has allowed me to have the confidence to say that I can run my own program.”
Now Tellez inherits a Bearcat team which made big strides with a 18-22 record this year after going 9-13 in 2020 and 11-28 in 2019. Pitching held the Bearcats back with a 5.09 ERA.
Northwest will benefit from the return of starting pitchers Breck Dickey, Raven Defrain and Hayden Simmons. The freshman trio combined to start all 40 games last season.
Offensively, the Bearcats are set to return a majority of the lineup, but will be without 2-time NFCA All-American Kaitlyn Weis. She was a first-team selection in 2018 and third-team selection in 2021.
“I am very passionate about what I do and it is more than just softball,” Tellez said. “Why I got into coaching is more than just softball. Especially in the college ranks, you get women who are 18 to 22 years old — some of them are away from home for the very first time — and this is such a crucial part of their lives, trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Just to be a part of that and make an impact on their life outside of softball is really why I got into this. Softball, obviously I enjoy and I love. I think it is just a vehicle for more things in life besides the sport itself.”
Tellez also is looking forward to joining an athletic department with several programs that are highly successful.
“I talked to a couple players when I was there for my interview and the thing that kept coming up is the championship culture that surrounds them,” Tellez said. “I think it is only beneficial. … Other programs have had success, and I'm looking forward to bringing that success to the softball program.
“There are people down the hall from me who have won national championships. Being a young coach, that is more exciting than anything else. I can't wait to get into their office and just pick their brains.”
Tellez will officially join the Bearcat staff on July 1 and one of her first priorities will be building out her coaching staff and getting to know Maryville.
“Filling out the staff is going to be priority one, and right behind that is just looking at our roster and figuring out what our needs are,” Tellez said. “... Filling out the staff, getting a roster filled and trying to get settled into Maryville.”