Genoa native Mandi Balduf has found the perfect gig coaching the women's softball team at Chowan University in Murfreesboro, N.C.
"I love the area," Balduf said. "I love being by the beach. Being in the South is much more conducive to softball. At Tiffin we were playing in the snow and rain. Here, we play our first game Feb. 1, and I'll have 20-24 games in before we even go to spring break every mid-March. In Ohio, we would be going south in mid-March to start the season.
"The South is great ... We practiced outside until December this year."
Balduf, a 1998 graduate of Genoa High School, is in her second year as the head coach at the Christian school, which was founded in 1848 by Baptist families and named in honor of the Algonquin Chowanook tribe. Chowan has about 1,000 undergraduate students and 11 NCAA Division II athletic programs.
Balduf admitted that she wasn't Miss All-World on the softball diamond as a second baseman at Genoa and later at Tiffin University. She has, however, turned out to be a pretty darn good coach.
"I was just an average player," Balduf said. "In college I was an Academic All-American. I was just your No. 2-hole hitter. Nothing special."
On May 7 her third-seeded Chowan squad took on sixth-seeded Indiana Wesleyan University at the National Christian Colleges Athletic Association (NCCAA) National Tournament in Palm Beach, Fla. The Hawks, who entered the tournament with a 30-21 record, won the NCCAA South Region tournament on April 18 in Franklin Springs, Ga. Chowan's championship at the South regional earned Balduf that region's Coach of the Year award.
"It's not like anybody voted me," Balduf said, "but our team won and they give it to the winning coach from that region. I give the award to all the kids. Without them, without their performance and dedication, I wouldn't have that award. I think of it as the staff of the year award."
Balduf's road to Murfreesboro was well traveled.
She graduated from Tiffin University in 2002 with a B.A. in sports management and was a four-year starter on the softball team. She helped the Dragons win an American Mideast Conference title in 2002, and was twice named an NAIA Academic All-American.
After graduating, Balduf moved to Lexington, Ky., where she worked as a volunteer in the AmeriCorp: Athletes in Service program. She spent more than 1,700 hours working with inner-city youths in Lexington while also volunteering as an assistant softball coach at the University of Kentucky.
"AmeriCorp is pretty much like the Peace Corps, but it's domestic," Balduf said. "I worked in high schools with troubled youths and in elementary schools as a teacher's assistant. At night we would go to the Boys and Girls Club; luckily, my director was good friends with the head softball coach at Kentucky and was able to get me into a full-time volunteer position there.
"I'd go to the schools in the morning and to Kentucky in the afternoon, and as soon as practice was done I would go downtown to the Boys and Girls Club. We were basically counselors for the kids for their night programs. Sometimes I was the only hug that these kids had. It was predominantly inner-city black kids and I was this white girl. I enjoyed making an impact in those kids' lives. I still get e-mails from some of them today."
Balduf was hired as an assistant coach at Tiffin in 2004 and helped the Dragons win three straight AMC North titles along with two NAIA National Tournament appearances. In 2006, the Dragons posted a 57-11 record and won the NAIA Region IX championship.
Prior to being hired at Tiffin, Balduf spent one season as a graduate assistant at the University of South Dakota.
"Sports has always been a huge part of my life," Balduf said. "I grew up with the YMCA, with my brother and my father. I knew I wanted to coach as soon as I got into college at Tiffin. My freshman year, once I started sports management classes I knew I wanted to coach.
"My coach ran a fall program with area high school programs and I was one of the coaches of those teams. I worked with incoming freshmen and helped them get acclimated to what Tiffin's traditions were. My coach at Tiffin, Brian Campbell, said I would be a very good coach. I always wanted to be involved in sports, I just didn't know how. It definitely wasn't for the money."
Balduf said becoming a head coach after five years as an assistant has worked out just fine.
"I wanted to take over a program and see if my philosophies could work," she said. "Chowan took a chance with me and I took a chance with them. I love the move. With my personality, I love to be in control and I love to have my own team. The philosophies I have, I've sold it to the kids and in just a matter of two years we've turned the program around. Being the head coach, the final decision is mine and I kind of like that."