At 18 years old, most people are beginning to have to make decisions about their future. What college to go to, what subject to major in and what kind of job you would want are the usual questions that 18 year olds are answering. At age 18, current Slippery Rock softball coach Stacey Rice (then Stacey Rhoades) was asked to become something bigger than herself and to buy into a program and an idea that did not have a track record of success.
Rice grew up in South Park, Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh, where she was a star player on the championship- winning South Park High School softball team. During Rice’s senior year at South Park she began being recruited by then-Rock coach Vashion Johnson. The 2004-05 year was going to be Johnson’s second year as head coach and he was looking to turn around a program which had amassed 14 consecutive losing seasons. To turn a team and a program that had endured consistent failure into a program that could succeed Johnson knew he had to recruit the best possible players he could.
“My first recruits to the university had to be proven leaders, proven winners and I saw that in Stacey,” Johnson said. “I really went after her and talked to her about how her recruit class was going to help transform the program.”
Originally, Rice was not considering coming to Slippery Rock, but as she continued to talk to Coach Johnson, his message began to resonate with her.
“(Coach Johnson) challenged me and basically said ‘Do you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself? You’re going to the start of a new chapter in Slippery Rock softball.’ That just enticed me, it was interesting,” Rice said. “I knew I would play and be a leader, helping to transform the program. I bought into it really early, I was only 18 years old and I bought into this idea of Slippery Rock and the softball program.”
Rice ultimately accepted Coach Johnson’s challenge and came to SRU. Her decision proved to be a good one, as Rice went on to have one of the best playing careers during the program’s most successful period since the 1980’s.
In 2005, her freshman year, Rice hit .349 as the team’s starting shortstop and played in 43 games, an SRU record at the time. In 2006, Rice hit .315 and broke her own record by playing in 44 games. Rice really put her mark on the Slippery Rock record books during her junior year in 2007 when she hit .414, setting then single-season records in games played and games started with 48, at bats with 145, hits with 60, doubles with 15, home runs with 15, runs batted in with 44, total bases with 119, walks with 22, runs scored with 40 and slugging percentage with .821. Rice also excelled in her senior season, hitting .372 and starting in all 44 games.
In her four-year career the team compiled 97 wins and three winning seasons. Rice still holds the career records in games played (179), games started (175), at-bats (511), hits (186), doubles (37), walks (86), total bases (334) and on-base percentage (.461).
After graduating with a degree in Secondary English Education in 2008, Rice joined the master’s program at Slippery Rock and became a graduate assistant for the softball team. Rice earned her master’s degree in 2010 and then became an assistant coach on the team before being named head coach prior to the 2015 season. Rice attributes a lot of her coaching style and messages to the way Johnson coached her.
“I think (Rice) really enjoyed the fact that the players were accountable for the way they played on the field,” Johnson said. “I taught as much as I could in practice, but during the games I put responsibility on the players. My focus was to have smart ballplayers who were accountable so basically they were becoming coaches while they were playing.”
In her first year, Rice led The Rock to a 15-23 record and narrowly missed the conference tournament. SRU athletic director Paul Lueken said that when the head coaching job opened up Rice’s success, knowledge of Slippery Rock and dedication to the university made her the clear candidate to take over the program.
“I saw her desire and enthusiasm to continue what she had thought we had gotten started with softball,” Lueken said. “She’s has experienced success here and she understands what we need in order to be successful.”
Aside from her responsibilities with the softball team, Rice is active in on-campus activities and within the athletic department. Lueken said she is well-liked by other coaches and is a positive member of the department.
Rice has taken part in the women’s athletic golf outing and was a part of a panel called “Journey’s of Success at The Rock” that focused on Slippery Rock women who have been successful in their lives.
Rice said that her success comes from her making decisions not based on personal success or gain, but rather on her own code of ethics and doing what is right.
How Rock softball performs in the coming years will determine how successful Rice’s coaching career will be, but she is dedicated to SRU and excited to continue the process she signed on with 12 years ago when she was just 18 years old.
“Best case scenario for my career, we finally win a conference championship and I can retire here,” Rice explained. “I think it’s very unheard of for a coach to stay at any one place for a very long time. We’re blessed to have a community here on campus that is based on more than just winning. I would love to stay here for as long as they will have me, but definitely with at least one big trophy at the end.”