Siqueiros finds calling at Emory
All-region, All-ACC performer at Florida State in early 1990s
For three years, Penny Siqueiros taught rock climbing, bird watching, fitness programs and canoe adventure as program coordinator and health instructor at the Disney Institute. When the mission of the institute changed from providing experiences to corporate leadership and training, Siqueiros was at a crossroads. She would find the answer in the palms of her hands and she and Emory University’s softball program both would benefit from the change in program.
Siqueiros became Emory’s first head coach the summer of 1998. In her 13 years at the helm, the only losing season Emory has had was the year one, and the program has is established itself as a national power.
Given her boundless energy and passion for softball, it was a virtual certainty Siqueiros would be a very successful head coach. Doing it at a place like Emory, a school that vigorously challenges students academically and financially, was something altogether different.
Disney’s corporate lifestyle was a snug fit for Siqueiros, and after the institute, she had options to stay on in other positions. The three years, however, was the longest she’d been away from the game of softball.
Siqueiros’ Florida State playing career was in one word...successful. She led the Seminoles in batting average and RBIs for three consecutive seasons, and hits for two. She was first-team All-Region (1990), Atlantic Coast Conference Championships All-Tournament team (1992), and helped her FSU team to three College World Series appearances.
She followed that up with a three-year stint as an FSU assistant coach. Serving primarily as the outfield and hitting coach, FSU finished 13th in the nation in team batting average in 1995 and 15th nationally in 1993.
Siqueiros initially left FSU for Disney because she wasn’t sure she wanted to pursue coaching as a career. The time away from the sport and a memento led her back to the game.
“Just by chance, was unpacking something at home that my (FSU) players, gave me,” Siqueiros said. “It brought on such good memories and positive feelings when I came across that plaque. Then I knew that I had to get back into coaching. That’s where my heart is. This is where my passion lies. I’m so glad I had that break away from that where it gave me the opportunity to re-emerge back into the sport.”
The next question she had to answer was, where to coach? Siqueiros played and coached at top-tier Division I programs and that was all she knew. After taking time off to recharge, plug back into the coaching network and consider her future, she was still convinced she was destined for a Division I job. Then, a friend suggested she look into an opportunity at Emory.
“Emory was off the beaten path,” Siqueiros said. “I was like Division III? Are you kidding me? I was not about Division III having competed in and playing in the World Series. But this has been the best move ever. I’m really, really happy about it.”
For her to establish the program at Siqueiros had to accept the inherent obstacles that came along with leading a startup program on Emory’s stunning campus. It is one of the nation’s outstanding liberal arts colleges but small (7,441 undergraduate students), pricey ($60,000 per year) and like all Division III school, doesn’t award athletic scholarships.
Those are headaches many other coaches would not saddle themselves with given Siqueiros had been offered Division I coaching positions before Emory, and one since. A friend went as far as to say Siqueiros was committing “career suicide” if she took the Emory job.
“I look back and I was like this person just had no clue,” Siqueiros said. “I think that’s where the ego comes in. I’ve had my time in the sun. To me it was so much more about the purity of what it was.
“I had a great mentor in (FSU coach) JoAnne Graf (who started the FSU program). That, and good old daddy teaching me a strong work ethic. There were a lot of nights over the first three years I didn’t even know where Piedmont Park is, and I live about four miles away from it. It was pretty much home and work, and work and home.”
Shovel ready it was not. But the athletic department and administration convinced Siqueiros she’d made the right move by pouring resources into upgrading the program from top to bottom.
“From the very start we have been incredibly supported,” Siqueiros said. “That is from an athletic and financial standpoint. They’ve been behind us and that has felt really good. To win those seven games (7-14 in her first season) was one of our best efforts, I tell you, we were literally pulling kids off campus. We’d walk up and say, ‘Hey, you want to play softball?’
“I wore a patch of skin off my forehead that year trying to figure things out and we did. That’s why my heart was with Emory. Every day, when these kids show up it is because they want to. They’re there because no one is telling them to be there. The only thing I really have to offer them is who I am as a person and, of course, a fabulous university. They do it for almost 20 hours a week. That’s almost like a part-time job in college. They do it and they do it well.”
Emory’s 25-3 record, three consecutive University Athletic Conference championships-- played mid-season during spring break for academic considerations -- and its No. 2 ranking in Division III back that up. Siqueiros largely attributes that to the work of her assistant coach Lee Dobbins and volunteer assistants Johnny Thomas and Bob Heck, who she said run Division I-type practices.
“I am fortunate enough to have a great three assistants,” Siqueiros said. “Lee recently came onboard with me, and he’s a phenomenal addition to the staff. Bob had been at Georgia State for 27 years. I lean on his knowledge, and being able to come back and say some great things when I am speechless.”
Despite the youth of her team, the Eagles were ranked seventh entering the season. Her infield is manned mostly by freshmen and sophomores. Among them is first baseman Megan Light, who, along with pitcher Bridget Holloway and outfielder Jessica Thomas, were All-American’s last season. Light is Emory’s leader in home runs with seven. Holloway is 13-1 with a 1.74 ERA and Thomas leads the team in hitting with a .425 average.
“They all are consistent in their own way,” Siqueiros said. “You definitely know when challenging opportunities are presented in front of them, that they anchor in and they own it. Those girls, each could have gone Division I easily. We’re just fortunate they brought that mindset and physicality to be able to anchor in when the storm hits.
“It’s exciting (having a young team). I feel like I can sleep and I won’t have to color my hair next year. You’re encouraged, but you don’t want to rest on your laurels in anything you do. I think these women get it. They want to get better.”
They also have helped Siqueiros get better though her year-end surveys. She’s been doing it since she got to Emory. She asks the players to evaluate everything they’ve done during the year, if there’s anything she needs to do better, what things worked and what didn’t and all aspects of their experience within the program. Siqueiros said the responses have been invaluable.
“Being 28, and a first-year head coach, and you think you’re doing everything great,” said Siqueiros. “Then in the third or fourth year you get the survey back and go, ‘Ouch that kind of hurt a bit.’ You figure you’re driving the train the best way you know how, and it’s not the best way. We may have been very successful, but each year they’ve been more candid and more candid and more candid.
“What better way than to listen to the ones you are in charge of? Are you going to make revisions on everything? Absolutely not. But, if you care about them, you’re going to listen very closely and do the best that you can. I feel absolutely indebted to them for what they’ve taught me about being a better person, being more educated, being more culturally well rounded and more academically driven. Most importantly, they’ve taught me how to be a better coach. I feel very blessed and feel a deep loyalty to the university.”
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