By Matt Langone
LOWELL -- It's never been Danielle Henderson's style to boast. But the new UMass Lowell head softball coach will be sure to toss batting practice to her players, just to get a subtle point across.
"I'll put a few pitches where I know they'll miss it," said Henderson, with a laugh. "Just to show them I can still do it."
The 37-year-old Henderson could just as easily flash her softball gold medal from the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia as proof of her once prominent pitching career. But she rarely takes the medal out of a fireproof box in her home, and minimizes the notion that it could be used as a valuable recruiting tool.
"I don't think any of the players really care," said Henderson. "They only care that the school and the program are a good fit for who they are. They have this thing called Google, so if the players are interested in what I've done, they can find it."
Henderson was announced as the new head coach of the River Hawks' softball program on Wednesday, taking over for Sean Cotter. She brings a boatload of credibility, both as a player and coach.
Henderson comes to UML after serving as an associate head coach at UMass Amherst, where she was an All-American pitcher. She also spent time as an assistant coach at Stanford (2013) and Ohio State (2011-12).
Henderson has thoroughly enjoyed her coaching journey thus far.
"It's been great. Each place offered a different experience," said Henderson. "At Ohio State you had almost unlimited resources thanks to the revenue brought in by football and basketball. At Stanford, you have arguably the best conference (Pac-12) in the country.
"UMass Lowell seems like the perfect fit, with a team transitioning to Division 1. I'll be able to grow with the program. I've been at the Division 1 level for a long time and I know what it takes. It's a great opportunity for me. I knew there would be a point in my coaching career when it was time to become a head coach. This was a no-brainer."
A native of Commack, N.Y., Henderson was a four-year standout at UMass (1996-99), a three-time All-American, and the only four-time Atlantic 10 Tournament Most Outstanding Player in league history. She finished her collegiate career with 25 school records and was second all-time on the NCAA strikeout list with 1,343 (currently 20th). She is the only softball player in UMass history to have her jersey number (44) retired, and was inducted into the New England Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
Henderson served as a private pitching instructor before playing professionally in the National Pro Fastpitch League, which included three summers in Lowell playing for the New England Riptide at Martin Field. Her crowning achievement was, of course, the Olympic gold medal.
"It was a dream come true," Henderson said. "With all the hype surrounding the Olympics, you form these expectations. But it was even bigger than what I expected. Once you get out of college and you are playing against people that make softball their life, the competition really increases. It's a different style of ball with a lot more pressure."
Henderson's new challenge will be to develop the River Hawks into a softball power in the America East Conference.
UMass Lowell finished 13-36 (3-14 America East) last spring, its first season as a Division 1 program. The River Hawks have to complete three more seasons before becoming postseason eligible.