Since she began her coaching career, one might say that Marisa Runyon has had a meteoric rise through the ranks of the profession. After beginning her career as a high school assistant coach just three years ago, Runyon is now back in Division I, recently named the newest assistant coach at Tennessee Tech.
During her playing career at Alabama, Runyon was quietly effective for the Crimson Tide. She is most often remembered for her home run against Oklahoma in the 2015 Super Regionals; that grand slam helped vault Alabama back to Oklahoma City and the Women’s College World Series.
“That’s a moment that I’ll never forget,” Runyon says of her famous home run. “The best thing about that moment is honestly meeting my teammates at home plate. Something that we really valued as a program was mudita, and that’s basically being as happy for your teammates’ success as if it were your own. It was in full effect that night; I get chills just talking about it.”
After her playing career ended with the 2017 season, Runyon elected to pursue a Master’s degree at Coastal Carolina in Conway, SC. A native of Myrtle Beach, she said that she wanted to be closer to home as she continued her education and looked into beginning a coaching career.
“I actually thought that I wanted to be a graduate assistant [at the collegiate level],” Runyon mused recently. “But after four years away from home, I wanted to go home and then go ahead and get my Master’s right away. That’s when I got the opportunity to be the varsity assistant coach at my alma mater, and so I got to be home and do that.”
After one season as an assistant coach at Carolina Forest High, Runyon was promoted to varsity head coach for the 2018-19 academic year. Though the early days of her coaching career didn’t follow her initial plan, she still sees the benefit in the path that she’s followed.
“I feel like there’s no correct path,” Runyon said. “I could go back and wonder if I should have taken a graduate assistant route right away or something like that, but you know what? I took this path for a reason, and it’s gotten me to where I am now, and I’m extremely thankful for that.”
Following two years at her high school alma mater, Runyon was hired as an assistant coach at Division II Lynn University, where she spent the abbreviated 2020 season. Serving her first collegiate position during the pandemic-shortened year was a road not without its bumps and bruises. “I think it’s easy to talk about in simple terms,” Runyon noted. “It was awful. It’s heartbreaking for all of the athletes that have had to deal with everything.”
Even with the effects that the pandemic had on shortening the season itself as well as number of athletes’ careers, Runyon sees a silver lining that could come from it for those still in the game. “It’s going to bring a fire to all that we say and do,” she remarked. “You never know when anything is going to happen or be taken away from you, but we experienced that first-hand. I think it’s going to be a very special season to come, and I think you’ll also really get to see how passionate everybody is about the game.”
Calling it a “dream” to coach at the Division I level, Runyon entered this summer unsure of how the coaching carousel would shape up as the pandemic waged on. “It was really almost a scary time to look for a position, because I know so many schools had hiring freezes, and for a while, there were only a few openings,” Runyon recalled. “Then they started slowly coming. I was blessed and extremely happy in that my boss [at Lynn]was absolutely the greatest mentor for me, and if I ended up staying there, I would have been happy… this opportunity [at Tennessee Tech]kind-of just fell into my hand, and I had a conversation with coach [Michelle] DePolo and we really connected. I knew immediately; I just had one of those feelings. I really felt like I was at home just through that 2-hour conversation with her.”
When Runyon’s hiring was announced, DePolo was not abbreviated in her praise for what her new assistant coach brings to the table. “[Marisa] is exactly the type of person I was looking for in this process,” DePolo said in a school release. “She has rich experience both on and off the dirt. She is passionate, humble, and will immediately contribute to the overall growth of the program… Marisa’s softball experience is without question. Her list of accomplishments and accolades in the SEC are lengthy and impressive. When listening to her, it’s easy to see that her internal drive ignited her ability to go head to head with the best in the country and she’ll bring that mentality to our program.”
As she prepares for her first season as a Division I coach, Runyon is both realistic and ambitious about what lies in store. “I’m still young, you know, and I’m still just starting my coaching career,” she said. “So if I came into this thinking that I know everything or that I’m going to do everything, I’d be completely wrong in that. I do trust my coaching abilities and I’m really excited to bring some things to the scheme of this program, but at the same time, I’m excited to learn from coach DePolo and coach [Carly Van Auken] because I know they’ve been there, they’ve done that, and they’ve got some years on me. Just in the time that I’ve been here, I’ve already learned so much.
“I’m excited to bring in what I know and can contribute, but at the same time, I’m also really eager to get out there to learn and grow as both a person and a coach.”