By Matt Turer — firstname.lastname@example.org
Joplin softball has a new face at the helm for 2017 as the Eagles look for a bounce-back year after their first sub-.500 season since 2012. And her name is Jakki Prater.
Prater faces the task of replacing long-time Joplin coach Kirk Harryman, who won 255 games over 14 years at Joplin. But Prater has a resume of her own, just not yet as a head coach. She’s just two years removed from a successful softball career at Central Missouri, which followed a decorated high school career for Nixa (and Glendale…she transferred) and pre-empted four years of either volunteering with or being an assistant coach with Kickapoo softball.
Now, still in her mid-20s, Prater gets her first shot at a head coaching job.
“It’s something I wanted to do, but I didn’t expect it to happen as fast as it did,” Prater, a Texas native before moving to the Springfield area with her family, said.
Prater brings an intriguing combo of specializations to the table. She’s Central Missouri’s all-time home run leader and spent four years as one of the program’s top starters, starting most of the Jennies’ games finishing with a sub-3.00 ERA each of her last three seasons.
“My power came out when I got to college,” Prater said. “I found the weight room and learned how to take care of my body a little better.”
What’s exciting for the players involved with the Joplin program is that those lessons are still fresh in Prater’s mind and can be applied at a school with some of the best high school facilities in the state.
“Joplin has a better opportunity for these kids to get better in the weight room than any school I’ve been to at the high school level,” Prater said. “These kids have every opportunity to go through what I did, but sooner. My offseason programs (at Joplin and as an assistant at Kickapoo) have had a lot to do with CrossFit. A lot of body weights. Teaching explosiveness.
“We’re in the middle of a culture change at Joplin, especially in athletics. And the kids are starting to build into it more.”
Joplin’s 2016 was a bit of a rebuilding year after graduating six all-conference players following the program’s first state appearance in 2015. The Eagles still battled their way to 12 wins behind perennial all-conference shortstop Kinsley Stewart and all-conference selections Mikayla Kuehnel (C) and Aydan Perrin (UTIL). Stewart is gone but Kuehnel and Perrin (who were also all-district selections) return and will lead the Eagles in 2017.
Prater said Perrin will be the team’s ace this season, starting on the mound and providing a strong bat in the lineup. When not pitching, she’ll play shortstop. Kuehnel will be back at catch and will be an important leader again this year on the field, as well as at the plate.
“It’s a lot of motivation for me as a coach,” Prater said on taking over a program that already has a winning culture around it despite last year’s sub-.500 record. “We lost a couple good kids, but these kids know we’re a traditionally strong team, so if we keep trying to get that to resonate, we can be that again.”