When Kristie Fox departed UT-Arlington earlier this summer, the Mavericks athletic department only had to look a few hours south to find their new leader.
Peejay Brun had been an assistant coach at Texas State – her second stint at the school – for a single season when the UTA position opened. “I wasn’t actually looking for a head coaching job at the time,” Brun said. “But once it opened, and I slowed myself down to think about it, I knew it was an opportunity that I just had to try.”
The move minimized many of the usual complications of assuming a new position. Brun’s new job is just over two hundred miles north of her previous position, and she’ll lead her new squad in Sun Belt competition, including against her old team.
“I don’t think it will be too difficult,” Brun said of playing Texas State and facing her former pupils and coworkers. “It will seem odd because of my strong history, but on the other side, we are all competitive, so you always want to do a good job. I still want those [Texas State] players to do their best, but now I’m just trying to beat them.”
Brun spent two seasons as the head coach at Hawaii-Hilo, amassing a win-loss record of 63-33-1 during that time. She had previously spent eight seasons in her first stint at Texas State as an assistant coach.
The Mavericks enter 2018 in an interesting position, returning five of their top offensive weapons from the 2017 season, but completely rebuilding their pitching staff. “It’s huge,” Brun said of the lack of turnover on the offensive side of the roster. “That was one thing that, when I applied for the job and [saw]that the top five hitters are all returning and for multiple years, that is exciting for me as a coach…. you see that the talent is there; it’s great because they are also young enough to mold into what we see the program being.”
Sam Clakley, the Mavs’ innings-eater and team leader in nearly every statistical category a year ago, is now an Oklahoma State Cowgirl. Sam Montes has graduated and Arlington native Mariah Denson transferred to Northwestern State in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Rebuilding her entire pitching staff is something that Brun knows will be a project.
“It was a little scary knowing that it was a completely different pitching staff and we have a totally new staff in respect of the Sun Belt Conference,” Brun said of new Maverick hurlers Michal Hylton and JoJo Valencia, who transferred from Creighton and Incarnate Word, respectively. “In the circle, it will be a little bit of work to prepare them for that; I think they are surrounded by enough talent that I think that’s going to make the transition easy for them.”
Former Oklahoma State pitching coach and ex-pro slugger Charlotte Morgan and DePaul alum Megan Coronado make up Brun’s staff of assistants, while former Buffalo slugger Alexis Curtiss remains the lone holdover from the previous administration. Of Morgan, Brun says it was an easy hire: “We talked on the phone before I brought [Morgan] in and things clicked really well and I knew that was going to be something that was really positive… how we approach things and envision things going was very similar.”
Coronado, who was a volunteer assistant on the Texas State staff in 2017, followed Brun to UTA for the first full-time coaching position of her career. “I knew that she was going to bring something to the table, in working with the outfield, the slappers, and lefty hitters,” Brun said. “I wanted to find a really good balance so that all three of us [on the coaching staff]can really balance each other out with our strengths and weaknesses.”
UT-Arlington kicks off the 2018 season on February 9 against Syracuse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.