KEARNEY — University of Nebraska at Kearney’s nearly four-month search to replace long-time softball coach Holly Carnes is over.
Athletic director Marc Bauer announced the hiring of Kearney native Katie Ackermann as the program’s new coach Wednesday night.
Ackermann served as an assistant coach for the last three seasons at McCook Community College and was named the program’s interim coach in August.
She’s the ninth head coach in UNK program history. The Lopers posted a 29-24 record and finished 10th in the 14-team MIAA last season.
“I’ve been bleeding blue for almost my whole life through softball,” Ackermann said. “Summer ball into Kearney High and just wanting to be apart of the UNK program. Just being here and around my family and within this culture that this community has represented for so many years has always been a part of me.”
The Lopers had 47 applicants for the position with 38 of them possessing head or assistant coaching experience, Bauer said. Bauer whittled down the applicants to eight finalists, who all had face-to-face interviews.
Bauer felt Ackermann had the energy, knowledge of the game and experience recruiting Nebraska and the region necessary to elevate the program, he said.
“There’s a lot of little things, but one thing we noticed is that she brought this excitement,” Bauer said. “It was this level of excitement that a lot of the other candidates I didn’t feel that.
“Honestly also her being apart of this community and knowing the people in the community. When I say she’s truly one of ours, I think that makes a big difference and it makes it a lot better for her to build those connections with people.”
Ackermann (formerly Bolin) inherits a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2012, which was its last in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The Lopers have never qualified for the MIAA Tournament in their seven years apart of the conference.
Ackermann replaces Carnes, who was fired May 9 after posting a 368-489 record in her 19-year tenure as coach. The Lopers had five winning seasons and qualified for the RMAC Tournament 10 times under Carnes.
One reason the Lopers struggled to compete under Carnes was the lack of high-end pitching. In softball, quality pitching is vital, but it was an area Carnes struggled to recruit and develop.
Ackermann understands that’s an area that needs to improve if the Lopers want to compete, she said.
The Lopers started fall practice last week. They will play three exhibition games with their first coming against University Nebraska Omaha on Sept. 29 in Omaha.
Bauer said it will take time but hopes the program can compete for MIAA championships in the future.
“For her to take it to the next level, she has to come in and set those expectations and get to know the kids on another level,” Bauer said. “She has to evaluate her student-athletes, find where they are at and how we are going to get them from here to where I expect them to be. Those expectations will be set early on, and I think she’s up for it.”
Ackermann was a talented softball player at Kearney High and Chadron State College. The outfielder left Chadron as the program’s all-time leader in career home runs (37) and home runs in a season (17).
Besides coaching at McCook, Ackermann was an assistant coach at McCook High School (2016-18) and Chadron State College (2011-12).
“My philosophy as a coach is to really set the bar high,” she said. “Teach kids to be fearless. Teach kids to never surrender and just fight. Just teach kids work ethic in the classroom and on the field.”