What Larissa Anderson had thought was a robocall a year ago turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
That opportunity — to become head softball coach at the University of Missouri — led to a turnaround for the Tigers’ program, and a berth in the NCAA Regionals.
Anderson, a Lake George native, has coached Missouri to a 35-25 record this season. The preseason pick for last place in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers’ season finished Sunday night with a loss in the championship round of the NCAA national regionals.
“I couldn’t have scripted it better,” said Anderson, the former Larissa Smith, who was a softball standout at Lake George before graduating in 1993.
A year ago, thanks to a successful run at Hofstra University — a four-year record of 130-73-1, two NCAA tournament appearances and seven wins over nationally ranked teams — Anderson found herself in great demand.
“What happens a lot in our sport, if you are winning at a true mid-major (school), Power 5 schools are going to be after you because you’re outworking the system,” Anderson said.
The day after the 2018 season finale, Anderson’s phone rang. It rang a lot that week, but the first number that popped up had a Missouri area code.
“I let it go to voicemail because I thought it was spam,” she recalled. “Then I immediately got a text, and it said, ‘Hey, it’s Jim Sterk, we really want to meet with you about coaching our softball team.’ So I get on the computer and I Google ‘Who is Jim Sterk?’ He’s the athletic director at Missouri, so I texted him back and he called me.”
What followed for Anderson was a whirlwind of interviews that ended with her being named the 10th head softball coach at Missouri.
“It was one of those situations where you ask, ‘Do I make a move or stay with what’s comfortable?’” Anderson said. “It’s everyone’s dream to coach in the SEC. If I don’t go now, I’m not going to get another offer like this because they’ll say, ‘She’s not leaving.’”
Anderson, who played Division II softball at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, coached at LIU-Post for two years before spending the next 17 seasons at Hofstra. As an assistant coach, she was known for developing pitchers and coaching defense — a major strength for a Hofstra program that has enjoyed 28 consecutive winning seasons.
Missouri’s softball program has been up against NCAA sanctions, stemming from a 2016 academic scandal that included the football and baseball programs. The school has appealed the harsh penalties handed down by the NCAA, which included a one-year postseason ban.
“It’s the perfect environment to rebuild a program and build a culture,” Anderson said.
Anderson said she has not experienced any culture shock, although she moved from Long Island to the heart of the Midwest.
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“Columbia, Missouri is like Lake George — I’m not kidding,” she said. “It’s a college town. It’s like Lake George, but put a big university in the middle of town. I coach softball, but if I walk into a restaurant, they say, ‘Hi, Coach Anderson.’ They pay attention, they follow all of the sports. It’s very family-oriented.”
Anderson is married to former Hofstra baseball coach Patrick Anderson, who now manages the Washington Nationals’ Class A affiliate in Maryland, the Hagerstown Suns.
“Our seasons overlap well,” she said. “From spring training until Labor Day, he’s on the road, and I’m coaching and recruiting. We spend a lot of time together the rest of the year.”
Anderson’s family still lives in the Lake George-Saratoga region, and she keeps in touch with her high school coach, Cathy Stanilka, who retired a few years ago.
“She taught me so much (about) how to respect the game,” Anderson said. “We were a powerhouse at Lake George, we were always expected to win, but she taught us to play with class and dignity, win or lose. That was the mentality — be the best, play the best, put in the time and the work, respect the game and respect your opponents.”
Anderson also stresses doing the little things — the fundamentals, good mechanics, proper positioning — to perfection. That’s something she brought to Mizzou.
“They needed the attention to detail — they were winning just on talent,” Anderson said, “but if you don’t have a system, you’re not going to be as successful as you can be. They had to understand that there’s a certain way to do every athletic skill until you do it perfectly. I had to break them down and build them back up.”
Developing players is what Anderson has done her entire career. Among her success stories this season is sophomore catcher Hatti Moore.
“Our catcher hit .170 and led the country in strikeouts last year,” Anderson said. “This year she’s over .300 and hitting fourth in our lineup.”
On Friday night, Moore belted a grand slam in the fifth inning as the Tigers rallied to win their regional opener. She finished with six RBIs.
At Anderson’s first practice at Missouri last August, she had her players go through drills so she could see what they needed to work on.
“It was our worst practice of the year,” Anderson said. “They were talented, but their fundamentals were terrible. But I left practice that day so happy because I knew how good they were going to be. I was so pumped that I could see the potential in them if they could buy in, and they did when they saw results. And it’s paying off now.”
Moving from a mid-major program to a Power 5 school like Missouri means more resources and a bigger and better recruiting pool. Yet at Hofstra, Anderson’s teams succeeded, even against top programs — the Pride went 41-14 in her final season. Missouri had been barely over .500 in the previous two seasons.
“I told them what I was doing at Hofstra was coaching them up to beat a Power 5,” Anderson said. “I said, ‘You have more resources and opportunities, but they were beating you because they do all of those little things.’ Once they started to get that, that’s when we turned things around.”