Wiggs has big shoes to fill
Published: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
At Santa Fe Community College, Harry Tholen may be the hardest act to follow.
SFCC baseball begins its first season in 18 years without the longtime coach and founder of the program today in a 2 p.m. doubleheader against South Georgia Community College.
Current coach Johnny Wiggs knows he'll have to replace a local legend as he tries to improve upon the Saints' 2006 record of 17-18-1.
"When I think of the Santa Fe Community College program, I think of one coach," Wiggs said. "Harry started the program in '81, and to be the one to follow in his footsteps, I take great pride in that."
Wiggs, 39, pitched for SFCC from 1986-87 but never got to play under Tholen, who missed the 1986-88 seasons with health issues.
He then spent two seasons pitching for Florida.
Wiggs returned to Gainesville in 1992 and 1995 as Tholen's assistant coach. He came to SFCC from Polk Community College, where he coached for seven years.
Wiggs said he won't try to copy Tholen's coaching methods. Not that Tholen will ever be out of mind, or sight — the 36-year coaching veteran is now SFCC's fitness center manager, with an office not 100 yards away.
"Some people might be intimidated with him still being around," Wiggs said. "Me, I think it's a great resource. My transition has been easier with him being here because of our friendship."
Knowing he doesn't have the most talented roster, Wiggs feels that team chemistry is the key to winning.
"Baseball is a very unique game in that the biggest and the strongest don't always win. The best doesn't always win," he said. "It's the guys that play well together."
This philosophy comes from his 1988 season at Florida, when the Gators were expected to be seventh in the Southeastern Conference, but instead made a trip to the College World Series.
"My guys probably get tired of me referring back to the '88 team at Florida," he said. "Some of them were just being born then."
SFCC's biggest question mark is pitching, Wiggs said. None of the Saints' pitchers throw a high-speed fastball, so the squad will rely on ball movement and pitch location to force outs.
As the pitching adjusts, Wiggs hopes SFCC's strength — its defense — can keep the team in the hunt for the Mid-Florida Conference title.
Wiggs said his goal for this season is to go to the state tournament, which means the Saints would have to place first or second in the conference.
After what Santa Fe Community College softball coach Chris Ahern saw last season, she can't imagine fielding another team quite like it.
"It was the best team we've ever had here," she said. "It was like watching an ESPN highlight show every day."
So it's safe to say that this year's team has the bar set very high as it attempts to win its third straight Mid-Florida Conference championship.
The Saints begin their 2007 campaign this afternoon at 2 with a doubleheader at South Florida Community College in Avon Park.
One returning piece of the 2006 squad is shortstop Shannon Monahan, last year's Mid-Florida Conference Player of the Year.
Monahan led the Saints in RBIs last season with 45 while hitting .392 and stealing 15 bases, but her defensive ability is what truly makes her a standout, Ahern said.
"She covers more ground than most outfielders," Ahern said. "It's stuff you can't teach. She has instincts that go above normal athleticism."
The Saints' strength is their depth, due to the fact that 13 of their 17 players can play more than one position.
"My shortstop (Monahan) can catch. She can pitch. She can play third. She can play in the outfield," Ahern said. "In terms of player-by player, there are very few that are one-dimensional."
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