After guiding Bastrop to consecutive Class 4A State Tournament appearances, Jennifer Hickman will try to duplicate her success at Sterlington.
Sterlington is counting on Jennifer Hickman to make an impact on its softball program just as she did on her previous coaching stop.
SHS Principal Dell Ashley and athletic director Jason Thompson introduced Hickman to her new team Tuesday night at Panther Park.
“Sterlington has a great school system that I'm excited about becoming a part of,” said Hickman, whose hiring was approved by the Ouachita Parish School Board on Thursday night. “Coach Thompson, coach Ashley and coach (Jack) Goode have already made me feel more than welcome here. I am excited to embark on this new adventure with a new group of girls. I believe it is a great opportunity to coach a team full of young ladies who have a love for the game as I do. Coaching and teaching at Sterlington also allows me to remain close to my family and friends.
“I will work hard on and off the field to allow other young ladies to experience some of the things, if not more, than I experienced during high school and college.”
Taking over a struggling program at Bastrop, Hickman guided her alma mater to a second round playoff berth as a rookie head coach in 2014 and back-to-back Class 4A state quarterfinal appearances in 2015 and '16.
Recovering from a dreadful 4-16 start, the 2015 Lady Rams went on an improbable late-season surge to qualify for the State Tournament for the first time since 2000, Hickman's freshman year.
Last year, the Lady Rams went 21-13, including a wild 16-15 victory over Sterlington. Bastrop went 7-3 in the highly-competitive District 2-4A, finishing one game behind eventual state semifinalists Neville and West Ouachita.
Thompson is convinced Hickman is the right coach for the Lady Panthers, who made their last State Tournament appearance in 2012.
“I hope she's as excited to be here as I am for her to be here,” Thompson said. “As soon as word got out that the position was open, my phone started ringing with people recommending her. Once she came in and interviewed, it was obvious she was the best fit for the job.”
Thompson says he was impressed with Hickman's long-term vision for the program.
“She kept referring to player development,” Thompson said. “She said it's not only important to develop their skill sets, but to develop relationships with them. I think that's real important nowadays.”
Hickman accepted the Sterlington job Friday afternoon and broke the news to the Lady Rams on Monday.
“She called me Friday and told me she was coming to Sterlington, but asked me to keep it quiet until she could meet with the Bastrop players. She wanted to tell them in person instead of letting them hear it from somewhere else,” Thompson said. “I think that says a lot about her.”
Though she believes the timing was right, leaving Bastrop was a difficult decision for Hickman.
“I would like to thank Morehouse Parish and Bastrop High School for the generosity and support they have given me over the past three years. I can't thank Dr. (David) Nordman, coach (Brad) Bradshaw) and Mrs. (Mitzi) Quinn enough for their relentless support,” Hickman said. “I was at home there and they all made me feel that way. I enjoyed my three years at BHS. Their support means a lot to me. I appreciate everything everyone there has done for me, and it didn't go unnoticed. Again, thank you, and I appreciate you all very much!”
Announcing her resignation to the Lady Rams was an emotional experience.
“To my girls that I've coached and had to say bye to: That was one of the hardest things I've had to do in my lifetime,” Hickman said. “My words were probably short and to the point, but I'd like you to know that I love you to no end and back. The years together can never be replaced in my heart or taken away. I am always here if or when needed. I wish you the very best in your far and near future. I hope that during the time we shared, you learned a lot from me as I did from you. Take those things I taught you and build a strong future for yourself and your future family.”
A three-sport athlete in high school, Hickman earned seven varsity letters (four softball, two basketball, one one cross country) at Bastrop. She was a three-time All-District selection for coach Weldon Fitch.
Hickman took the scenic route into the coaching profession.
Signing with Arkansas-Monticello, she started at second base as a freshman for the 2004 Gulf South Conference Western Division champions.
She spent the next six years working for the U.S. Post Office. As she delivered mail in the spring and saw the youth teams practicing everyday, the call of the softball fields proved overpowering. Parking her mail truck for good, she resumed her career.
Inserted into UAM's lineup at shortstop, Hickman earned first-team All-Gulf South Conference accolades in 2010 and 2011.
As a senior, she was named second-team All-Great American Conference after hitting .323 with a career-high six home runs, 13 doubles, two triples and 25 RBI. She also contributed a .381 on base percentage, a .537 slugging rate and was a perfect 9-for-9 in stolen bases.
Putting an exclamation point on her college career, Hickman made the postseason All-Tournament team after leading the Cotton Blossoms to the inaugural GAC regular season and tournament championships.
Besides playing softball, Hickman ran cross country for the Blossoms.
Following her senior year, she was recognized as an NFCA All-America Scholar-Athlete and UAM's Female Athlete of the Year.
Hickman graduated summa cum laude from UAM with a bachelor's of business administration degree.
She remained at UAM for the 2013 season as a graduate assistant to coach Alvy Early while pursuing her master's in Physical Education and coaching.
Hickman succeeds co-coaches Jack Goode and Lori Bruscato at Sterlington.
Goode resigned his softball duties to accept a 12-month position as head of Sterlington's new agriculture program. Goode was head coach for three years prior to sharing the head coaching duties with Bruscato last season. He was previously head coach at West Ouachita.
Bruscato will remain at Sterlington as a teacher and head girls' soccer coach. A former ULM softball player, she started the Lady Panthers' soccer program in 2014.
Coming off of a 7-21 2015 campaign, the Lady Panthers improved to 16-10 last season and advanced to the second round for the first time since 2012. Hickman will inherit a veteran team at Sterlington as four-time All-District 2-2A first baseman Caroline Cooley and pitcher Breann Bowen were the only graduation casualties from the starting lineup. Returning starters include pitcher/shortstop Breanna Sylvestri, pitcher/outfielder Tanner Wilson, catcher Madison Smith, infielders Rebekah Wood, Sydnee Davis and Catherine Trichell and outfielders Kaela Mullins and Carson Lyon.