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The standard-setter

It is a notable thing in the Farmville community that when spring approaches, people in the area can expect to follow an NCAA Division I softball team that has made winning a rich tradition.

Driving the success of Longwood University’s young players on the field for the last 22 seasons has been Head Coach Kathy Riley.

During her tenure, the Lancers have never had a losing season, not even when Longwood transitioned its athletic programs from Division II to Division I. The team played its first full Division I schedule in 2005.

Her career record with the Lancers is 722-400-1. She has led them to Big South Tournament Championships in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019. Winning the tourney results in an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, where the Lancers have shown growth in their competitiveness over the years.

Riley has helped cultivate a winning culture by setting a high standard, demanding the best from her players.

The program’s success has had a powerful impact on the surrounding community, and Riley said she has been able to sense that impact, seeing it some at games but more when she is just interacting with the community in every day ways.

“I can go to the gas station and be filling my car up, and somebody, they’ll say, ‘Hey, looking forward to you guys starting your season this spring’ or people (will be) complimentary … (saying) they’ve enjoyed seeing us be successful,” she said. “I hear it, often, and it just really makes you feel good that the people are drawn to the fact of what our team stands for and the fact that we want to represent Farmville and Longwood both, because that is important to us, and once you get a little bit of the taste of making an impact, it’s something that you don’t want to let get away from you.”

The demands of her job do not leave much time for her to take on other roles, but there was a notable exception in December 2017 when she was appointed special adviser to then-Director of Athletics Troy Austin before he left for an opportunity to work at his alma mater, Duke University.

“I was a special adviser for Troy, and it was something I really enjoyed doing because I wanted to not just concentrate on softball but concentrate on the overall health of the athletic department in hopes, again, that athletics would be a driving force in pulling the community together, which I think it can be,” she said.

Riley has also served on the All-American Committee and the Top 25 Committee the last couple years for NCAA softball.

She admits she would not describe her schedule as reasonable, because it deviates significantly from a 9-to-5 job, but she said it is possible to take some time off, particularly between the end of the season and the beginning of heavy recruitment in mid-June.

With that opportunity, she said she has traveled a little more lately.

“I did go to Italy last year for 10 days, and I went to Cabo San Lucas the year before,” she said. “So, it’s something new for me to do that, but I’ve enjoyed getting to see just some different cultures, so I could see myself doing that a little bit more.”

She said she will play golf sometimes, and every now and then, she will find a poker game, enjoying Texas Hold ‘em.

“I do like it because it reminds me of sports a little bit, because there’s little things and nuances you can do to try to manipulate the game a little bit, so people don’t know what you have or how you’re playing, so I enjoy being able to switch gears a little bit or the challenge of that,” she said.

Riley said that in the summer, she enjoys yardwork on her 10-acre plot of land, describing it as “home improvement, but outside.”

Revealing some details many may not know about her, Riley said because she has a bit of a harder exterior and is a serious person, some might be surprised to know she has a soft, emotional side and also enjoys joking around.

Riley also admitted to a fear of heights. She will go in high buildings, but she would rule out some recreational activities people have encouraged her to participate in.

“They want to get me to go parachuting, and I’m like, ‘Uh, 100% I’m not doing that,’” she said. “I said, ‘I’m sure not paying anybody to take me up there to do it either.’”

Skydiving is also out for now.

“I have an adventurous side,” she said. “Could I see myself ever doing it? Yes, but I definitely would be afraid, but it would be more like only to challenge myself to conquer a fear. But right now, I’m saying, ‘No, I’m not interested in doing it.’”

MIKE KROPF | LONGWOOD UNIVERSITY

Riley offers advice to a batter along the baseline during a home game. The coach led Longwood to the Big South Tournament Championship in front of the Farmville home crowd at Lancer Field in 2017.