May 30, 2023
The Peak of Vallee’s Coaching
The 2023 softball season, head coach Stacey Vallee’s 19th campaign at Francis Marion University, turned out to be the most offensive of her career – and that should be taken in a positive way. The Patriots posted a 42-13 record, came within one game of winning the Conference Carolinas regular-season title, captured the conference tournament title, and made a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
While equaling the school record for victories in a season, it was the Patriot bats that made the biggest hit in 2023. Coach Vallee’s crew set school records for runs scored (458), hits (568), home runs (60), runs batted in (417), team batting average (.373), slugging percentage (.580), on-base percentage (.446), and runs scored per game (8.33). Entering the NCAA Tournament, FMU ranked first nationally in Division II in scoring and team batting average; second in on-base percentage, total hits, and total runs scored; and fourth in slugging percentage.
“Everything fell into place,” Vallee said. “Coaches always enter a season with high hopes and big expectations, and for us in 2023 things came together really well. That’s not to say it was perfect, but pretty close.”
FMU President Fred Carter lauded Vallee on the success of her team.
“Stacey is the epitome of what a coach should be,” said Carter. “She cares deeply about her players’ successes not only on the field, but off the field as well. We are all so pleased with the success she and her team experienced this year. All of their hard work – individually and as a team – paid off. They have every reason to remember this season proudly for the rest of their lives.”
The pieces that fell into place included three four-year seniors, a fifth-year senior, four transfers that ended up in the starting line-up, and two freshmen that started beginning with day one, including right-handed pitcher Jenna Walling from Johns Island, S.C., who became the program’s first 20-game winner (in the pitching circle) in 13 seasons.
“Our results were a testament to the players and how hard they worked. The coaching staff held them accountable and they in turn held each other accountable. A large group of newcomers (five position starters) bought into what we were trying to accomplish. We had team goals and the players had individual goals. The season was proof of what the players wanted out of their experience as student-athletes at Francis Marion, and hopefully as a coaching staff, we helped deliver on that.”
The success also extended to the classroom, where the team posted a 3.555 grade point average in the fall and a 3.573 GPA during the spring semester. Ten players were named to the conference’s Academic All-Conference Team and four garnered Academic All-District recognition.
“Success feeds the fire,” Vallee commented. “Last year, we lost in the conference tournament title game and had to wait on an at-large berth to the NCAAs. This year, we won the conference tournament and the automatic berth in the NCAAs and nearly made it to the sub-regional championship game. The players and staff want more. Winning players win, and we want to bring in players that elevate the mindset of our program to a high level.”
Francis Marion opened its 2023 season by winning 24 of its first 28 contests, including three victories over nationally ranked opponents. The Patriots then suffered through a stretch where they dropped five of six conference games, but rebounded to win 12 of their final 14 regular-season contests. Seeded third in the conference tournament, FMU went through the event unbeaten, including a thrilling 10-4 extra-inning win over the defending tournament champion in the title game. Senior right-handed pitcher Rachel Davis went 4-0 in the circle and was named the tournament MVP.
“The members of this team did whatever was asked of them,” said Vallee. “I am extremely proud of them and the job they did on the field and in the classroom. Their success speaks to who they are. As a coach, I stress that the hard work I ask the players to put in, will benefit them later in life as they move past the playing field and into their work life.
“Now we are back on the recruiting trail looking to fill the void left by our seniors that are leaving. We don’t just look at numbers, but if a student-athlete is the right fit for our program.
“Over my time at FMU, I have learned a lot from the student-athletes. I like to think of myself as a perpetual learner, and I ask the same of my players. My ability to reflect on things has improved, and I can relax and enjoy moments to a better degree. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a coach, but now I stay in the profession because of the relationships with the players. We develop those relationships while they are student-athletes and then continue them after they leave Francis Marion and transition through the time periods of their life.
“I also learned that I didn’t want to go home angry after a bad practice or game. I now realize that failure happens. It’s ok for 18-to-22 year-old young people to fail as long as those setbacks become steps to success.”
In addition to her coaching duties, Vallee also serves as the athletic department’s Senior Women’s Administrator. She and her husband Greg have two children, Ryker (rising 10th grader) and Moxie (rising seventh grader). “I am blessed with my family, and with the ability to involve them with my job. They are supportive and invested in the program. Over the years, I have been able to talk with other coaches who are mothers and learned the tricks and trades of balancing family life and work. I do like to keep parts of my life separate from work, but in many ways, they are all intertwined. My daughter (Moxie) especially wants to spend time around the team, and she enjoys scouting and looking over stats.
A coach spends so much time on the field or recruiting, away from their personal family, that the team then becomes your ‘other family.’ This current group was fun to be around, and that makes my job more enjoyable.”
Over her 19 seasons on the Patriot bench, Vallee has posted a .606 winning percentage en route to 553 career victories and four trips to the NCAA Tournament. Her program has seen players earn All-American status for academics on 72 occasions over just the past 11 years.