Ole Miss softball has a new identity.
In their only year under interim head coach Reuben Felix, the Rebels did not look like themselves before the 2020 season was cut short by COVID-19. After an offseason of disarray, a super regional team from a year prior began 12-13. The program was at a pivotal moment of sink or float, and athletic director Keith Carter had a decision to make. He made a power move to establish that the expectation is to win and hired Jaime Trachsel to lead the Rebels forward. Since being introduced in April, Trachsel has stepped into the SEC and brought in an elite supporting cast to fill out her coaching staff.
Let’s get to know the team’s new leadership:
Jamie Trachsel — Head Coach
When it was announced that Trachsel would be leaving Minnesota for Ole Miss, many were surprised at her decision to leave a winning Power 5 program in her hometown. But the chance to coach in the Southeastern Conference, and the nearly million-dollar contract, were too great to pass up.
The 41-year-old comes to Oxford with a proven record in her short time making her way to the top of the NCAA coaching world. Her career began at North Dakota State, where she gradually rose in rank at a program that received five NCAA Regional births in six years.
After gaining recognition as a rising star in the field, Trachsel’s patience paid off and she was hired on as the head coach of Iowa State. In her one season in Ames, Iowa, she led the team to its best conference finish since 1994.
About 12 months later, Trachsel was on her way back home as the new head coach of the Golden Gophers. In her first year at the helm, Minnesota went 41-17 and won their third-straight Big Ten Tournament title. In her second, the team finished 46-14 and beat LSU in its first-ever home NCAA Super Regional to advance to its first College World Series. Her roster had five All-Big-Ten honorees and finished No. 8 in the country in 2019.
Trachsel inherited a talented program and led it to the top. The 2020 season began 15-9-1 with wins over the No. 5 and No. 19 teams in the nation, but was cut short due to COVID-19.
Kaitie Rietkovich Browder — Assistant/Hitting Coach
The first assistant to join Trachsel’s staff at Ole Miss is a familiar face to those in Oxford and Katie Rietkovich Browder returns to the Rebels as the team’s hitting coach. While serving as an assistant under Mike Smith from 2016-18, she played a pivotal role in establishing the team’s slapper offense with Kylan Becker, Elantra Cox and Paige McKinney.
Following the 2018 season, Rietkovich Browder was hired by Trachsel as an assistant coach at Minnesota and her offense made an immediate impact on the record books. Not only did the Gophers make a run at a national title, the team ranked second all-time in school history with 72 home runs, third with 225 walks, fifth with 87 doubles and fifth in slugging percentage.
Under her guidance, freshman Natalie DenHartog was the team’s leader in slugging percentage and RBIs, and second in batting average and home runs in 2019 after beginning the year on the bench. She led the Gophers in nearly every category during the short 2020 season.
Reitkovich Browder knows offense and has the players, the numbers and the wins to back it up. Her return will be welcomed to an Ole Miss team that saw a significant drop off in offensive production a year ago.
Ryker Chason — Assistant/Pitching Coach
Ryker Chason has paid his dues and was tapped to join Trachsel as Ole Miss’ pitching coach for 2020. The former men’s fastpitch softball ace competed for the United State Junior Men’s National team at the world championships in 2014 and 2016, and is currently on the 40-man pool for the US Men’s National Team. When Chason coaches, it’s from experience.
After his stint competing for his country, Chason began his coaching career at South Georgia State College for the 2016 season and joined the LSU staff as a student assistant for the past four years. While with the Tigers, he assisted head coach Beth Torina with pitching charts and pitch calls and worked with four NFCA All-American pitchers.
Of course, the Tigers fell short to the Gophers in the 2019 Super Regional, but Trachsel must have seen something she liked in Chason. In addition to his work in Baton Rouge, he has been the pitching coach for the 2018 PGF National Champions and 2019 PGF National Runners Up Georgia Impact Premier Club for the past four years.
Chason will inherit a staff that is relatively unproven with a significant workload, led by juniors Anna Borgen and Ava Tillman. The Rebels will have to replace the production from Molly Jacobsen, who led Ole Miss with 71 innings pitched— eight more than those of Borgen and Tillman combined. It won’t be easy to find a third starter and a clear-cut ace, but an additional offseason under new direction could be just what is needed for the two likely candidates to find their groove.
Falepolima Aviu — Graduate Manager
Trachsel’s most recent hire will hold a graduate manager position in Oxford, which may seem insignificant. However, there are limited paid coaching positions in softball, and much of the dugout personnel is built by graduate assistants and volunteers. In this case, bringing on Falepolima Aviu from the University of Oklahoma is a big addition.
As a freshman with the Sooners in 2016, she earned 55 starts and hit .355 with 50 RBIs and eight home runs. During Oklahoma’s championship-clinching Women’s College World Series Final, Aviu went 2-for-3 and knocked in the team’s winning run. A year later, she started all 70 games for Oklahoma and recorded 51 RBIs and scored 39 runs. In 2019, a senior Aviu was named a First Team All-American after posting a .350 average as a senior. She scored 49 runs, knocked in 36 more and racked up 12 doubles, seven home runs and two triples.
Aviu hits bombs and will be an experienced example of success for Ole Miss’ lineup in 2021. She’s done it on the highest level and brings an understanding of what it takes to not only be successful as an individual, but also on a team and championship level.
Brian Thomas — Coordinator of Operations
Brian Thomas will oversee day-to-day operations of the softball program for the second straight season after being hired to the role in 2020. His responsibilities include assisting with the Rebels’ camps throughout the year, team travel and equipment operations.
Prior to Oxford, Thomas served as Florida Atlantic’s director of operations for the university’s baseball team. While in Boca Raton, Fla. he handled day-to-day operations, travel arrangements, camp coordination, and fundraising for the Owls.
Thomas was considered a rising star in the industry and made a jump from one diamond to the other when Ole Miss offered the young up-and-comer an opportunity in 2020.
It may seem like common sense, but without someone to handle operations, a program flounders. This notion is particularly true in softball, where early-season tournaments are often played outside of the country, non-conference games could be as far away as Washington, and weekend tournaments are common occurrence. Though his first season with the Rebels did not begin with the expected on-field results, Thomas had his Xs and Os in order as the team traveled to Clearwater, Fla., Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and hosted the Ole Miss Classic. With a “free pass” year under his belt, Thomas is set up to run a tight ship at a program that saw a lot of loose management in the years prior to his tenure.