Odom building Beechwood softball into competitive program after learning from Dixie Heights coaches

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Mary Elizabeth Odom stood in the visiting dugout at her high school alma mater on Tuesday seeing a former player on the opposite side.

Beechwood’s softball team visited Dixie Heights to open the season. Dixie Heights head coach Sarah Osborne is in her fifth season leading the Colonels after serving as an assistant under current principal Roddy Stainforth from 2011-17.

Dixie Heights may have won 17-2 in four innings, but Osborne said that does not tell how much the Tigers have improved in Odom’s second season.

“The score doesn’t reflect it and sometimes the score doesn’t reflect what the game looks like,” Osborne said. “That’s something we teach our girls, too. We were talking as coaches that Beechwood could be a contender to win the district, not just be in the region. It’s completely with Mary Beth. Mary Beth has done a lot with these girls. You can see it when warming up and you can see it with the culture. She’s done a really good job in the two years that she’s been there. As a former coach of hers, I’m proud of her.”

Odom graduated from Dixie Heights in 2015 after helping the Colonels win the 34th District in 2014. The Colonels also made the region semifinals her eighth grade and freshman seasons in Stainforth’s eight seasons as head coach. That 2014 district championship marked the first one for Dixie Heights since 2009.

Stainforth recalled a specific play of Odom, nicknamed “Odie”. Stainforth said Odom misjudged a ball with a plastic headband on and it hit her on the top of the head.

“Mary Beth was one of the toughest kids I coached physically and mentally. I looked and said, ‘Mary Beth, are you okay?’ She said, ‘I’m fine. I’m fine.’ There’s blood running down her face,” Stainforth said. “When you’re trying to build a program, you have to have that toughness because you’re not going to have that instant gratification. You have to be tough enough to see it through and Mary Beth is 100 percent tough enough to see it through.”

Odom set out to bring those traits to Beechwood when she took over last year. The Tigers finished 15-18 beating Holy Cross to make it to the 9th Region Tournament for the second straight year before losing to Notre Dame in the 35th District championship and Ryle in the region quarterfinals. The Tigers are seeking their first district championship since 2012 and their first-ever region tournament win since starting the first fastpitch season in 2006.

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“I was bleeding from the head and kept going because I didn’t want to stop,” Odom said. “That came from how my Dad and my parents raised me. If you want something hard enough, you’ll work for it and you will never stop. So the mental toughness game definitely plays a factor when I played, am trying to teach it at Beechwood and it goes for my career as an accountant.”

Odom’s dad Dennis assisted the Dixie Heights baseball team under Chris Maxwell for 15 years. He said Odom wanted to go hit from the age of nine taking 200 to 300 swings per day. He’d run her places including Dixie Heights when he coached there and when the family moved into the new home, Odom wanted a batting cage in the unfinished basement instead of a basketball hoop. Odom’s brother John graduated from Beechwood and currently plays baseball for the Northern Kentucky University Norse.

“It’s overwhelming at times to be honest with you to be very lucky to have the daughter and son that I have,” Dennis Odom said. “She’s a hard worker. She tries to do the right thing. I’ve always said this about her. There is not a person on the planet who will outwork her. That’s very gratifying as a parent to know that you don’t have to push very hard to get them to figure out their goals and bust their tails to achieve them.”

Odom went on to play at Thomas More College under veteran head coach Lindsay Egan. The Saints finished 132-47 during her four years there.

Dixie Heights did win the 34th District in Stainforth’s final two seasons as head coach before he took over the boys basketball team. Osborne served as an assistant at Cooper in 2010 before coming back to Dixie Heights.

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“I decided that wasn’t okay. We need to get her back to Dixie,” Stainforth said of Osborne. “So I waited until Cooper played Dixie at our place and we officially retired her jersey in a ceremony. Then I talked to her afterwards and said, ‘You need to be back here.’ She came and joined us. It was awesome.”

Dixie Heights lost to St. Henry in the 34th District title game and to Ryle in the region quarterfinals in Osborne’s first season as head coach. But the Colonels have won three straight district crowns since then and ventured back to the region championship game in 2019 beating Notre Dame, 17-13 for the program’s first region championship since 2004 when Osborne, then Sarah Gronefeld, led the Colonels to the region championship as a junior under head coach Dean Fookes.

Stainforth pointed out the Colonels do it with kids that come in primarily from Turkeyfoot Middle School. The same thing went for his time as head coach of the boys basketball team for five years from 2017 through 2022.

“I’m so proud of (Osborne). I’m so proud of the girls,” Stainforth said. “We worked hard to do things the right way. We’re not a school that has people transferring in. The success we had was with Dixie kids. We had some very talented girls over the years that transferred out because they didn’t want to do it the right way.”

Dixie Heights lost in the region semifinals in 2021 before going back to the region championship last spring. The Colonels led Highlands 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh with two out and runners on first and second. Dixie Heights had the Bluebirds down to their final strike, but could not earn it losing 3-2. That has the Colonels motivated this spring.

“I feel like we have to want it four ourselves. We can’t let what we want come from the coaches,” said Carly Waters, Dixie Heights junior. “If we don’t want it, we’re not going to get it because they’re not going to work for us. They just have to push us harder to get to the end goal.”

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Mary Beth Odom hopes to see Beechwood in the same conversation with 9th Region powers such as Highlands, Ryle and Dixie Heights. She said the team has bought into her philosophies, especially the six seniors.

“Definitely bringing a passion for softball at Beechwood is big because it doesn’t seem like somebody coaching-wise has brought in that passion,” Mary Beth Odom said. “The coaches at Dixie and Thomas More really cared and they jumped up and down on a bad call. They always made us practice like we were going to play and had the passion there. You never really want to play softball until you see the passion in somebody else’s eyes. I definitely saw it Coach Osborne, Roddy Stainforth as well as my Thomas More coaches. As long as I am still up, I am jumping up and down and I am on their side, they start to get the passion themselves and they buy in to the program.”

Beechwood senior Lynden Noll returns after batting .313 last season. Beechwood had just one senior in Hallie Young last year.

“The community being behind us helps because we’ve gotten a lot more resources to help us,” Noll said. “The region tournament was fun for us last year. We played really well in the first couple innings. We’re excited to go back this year.”

The other five seniors are Lexi Engelman, Katie Rolf, Addison Durrett, Laney Hatridge and pitcher Brooklyn McGuire. Hatridge batted a team-high .455 last year with 49 RBI, 49 runs scored, seven doubles and four triples.

“I think because Mary Beth has played softball and likes it so much really helps us understand the game more,” Engelman said. “You can tell she puts a lot of work and effort into the Beechwood softball program. It’s really showing, especially this season. We’ve experienced huge growth and it’s definitely because of our coaches.”

Osborne pointed out she and Odom are one of several Dixie Heights graduates coaching in the 9th Region. Ludlow head coach Meredith Hartfiel is a 2012 Dixie Heights graduate and 2015 alum Haley Schulte is assisting the Colonels this year.

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