* Editor’s note: This feature was written shortly before the birth of the Huffstickler’s daughter Parker.
Sam and Tyler Huffstickler were not unhappy in their jobs at Central Missouri – Sam a full-time assistant coach with the Jennies’ softball team and Tyler and a volunteer assistant for the Mules’ stellar baseball program.
The approaching birth of their first child and desire to both be employed full-time, preferably at the same institution, was a perfect but unlikely scenario, though.
Enter Kansas Wesleyan and optimal openings for full-time assistants in both sports. A series of phone calls, a whirlwind trip to Salina for interviews, two job offers and the unexpected availability of a house they liked required another move but one they were thrilled to make.
“This is what you ask for whenever you get in a marriage and coaching together, being the same place and being full-time, especially with the little one,” said Tyler, who joins coach Bill Neale‘s staff and will work with KWU’s pitchers in 2022-23. “Being full-time, that’s the kicker.”
“We’ve moved so much and been at so many different schools and now with our baby here, we definitely are looking for stability so it’s nice we’ll be able to plant roots and find a house and that type of thing,” said Sam Huffstickler, who will primarily coach pitchers for new softball head coach Ryan Cooper.
Tyler Huffstickler replaces Cooper on Neale’s staff after Cooper moved to softball after the baseball season.
Tyler’s no stranger to KWU having played for Neale during the 2016 season and earning a bachelor’s degree.
“We stayed in contact these last five years and letting me get my feet wet in the coaching world,” he said. “He got me my first job with coach (Ryan) Bay at Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa and we stayed in contact from there. I feel like he’s reached out to me every year for the last three years offering me a job.”
Huffstickler coached outfielders this spring as Central Missouri (46-9) won the MIAA title and advanced to the finals of the Division II Central Regional. He was pitching coach for two seasons at Missouri Baptist and coached at NOC-Tonkawa for three seasons prior to Warrensburg.
“He was an outstanding teammate,” Neale said. “Even though he came at semester he was almost a coach in the dugout already and always willing to help teammates. When he went to NOC-Tonkawa he coached under coach Bay, who I coached under for nine years.
“Every time something came open, I’d reach out to him and say ‘we’d definitely take you.'”
Huffstickler knows one other member of the coaching staff – graduate assistant Ethan Wilson, who pitched for KWU the past three seasons.
“I coached him his first and second year of college in Oklahoma so a good relationship there,” Huffstickler said. “I’m sure he’ll fill me in on details of guys.”
“It’s going to involve a lot of weight room stuff, lot of weight ball stuff and all of the arm care,” Huffstickler said. “The pitching staff is going to go out there and throw strikes and dominate the zone. That’s what my pitching philosophy is built around. We’re going to try to improve the strikeouts, try to lower the walks.”
Neale is eager to see Tyler in action.
“He’s going to bring an energy I don’t know if (the players) are ready for,” he said with a smile. “He’s intense and he’s going to bring competition. They’re going to develop and get better; he’s going to motivate them. They’ve got to put in the work and do it but he’s going to get them to where they want to get to.”
Sam Huffstickler spent one season at Central Missouri. She was head coach at St. Charles Community College (Mo.) for two seasons before going to Warrensburg and also was an assistant at NOC-Tonkawa and Oklahoma Baptist. She played two seasons at Three Rivers College (Mo.) and two at Arkansas Tech.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’ve been all over, I’ve done the juco level, the D-2 level but have not been in the NAIA world so I’m excited to see where that takes me. (KWU) had a really good year with the circumstances that came with it. I’m excited to actually coach these women and give them a little bit of consistency with the pitching stuff.”
She’s a significant addition for Cooper.
“She brings a ton of experience,” he said. “With me being a new coach to the softball world I have a lot to learn and she’s been a head coach, she’s been an assistant coach at multiple levels. She’ll mainly work with pitchers but probably be a jack of all trades and do a lot of things.
“She’s also a good person and that’s really important to me.”
Huffstickler played catcher and says the experience is beneficial when working with pitchers.
“You can learn so much, you can see the spin of the ball coming at you versus being the one who’s actually spinning it,” she said. “I’ve reached out to (KWU players), told them here’s what we’re going to be doing for bullpens, the expectations that I have and those type of things.”
Recruiting will be a priority as well.
“Recruiting at the juco level you have to bring in so many kids every single year which is kind of the opposite at the D-2 and four-year level – you only have to replace a couple every year,” she said. “I think having both of those recruiting backgrounds will help me.”
Huffstickler plans to apply what she saw and learned at Central Missouri.
“The head coaches and cultures (in softball and baseball) are amazing so I definitely want to try and bring a little bit of that culture here,” she said. “It’s bigger than just softball – being good people, being good citizens, that type of thing that’s going to take them way farther in life than softball ever will.”