Herrera finds her calling

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com
Kourtney Herrera enjoys running fielding practice with her Pawhuska High School softball team. Here, strikes the pose as though she’s ready to swat a long one to the outfield. Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

Kourtney Herrera wasn’t planning to coach and teach in Oklahoma. She has no family here, but she had a friend from Pawhuska, Tara Malaske, who encouraged her to come here to work.

The way things have turned out for the 24-year-old Louisiana native is kind of like a divine calling, she said.

“It’s kind of like God’s calling — ‘You’re going to move to Oklahoma and you’re going to do all three things that you like to do,’” Herrera commented, referring to her duties with Pawhuska Public Schools as an athletic trainer, softball coach and high school science teacher.

Herrera is in her second year with the school district. She was junior high softball coach a year ago, and has taken over as the varsity head coach this year. She provides athletic training services for athletes in all sports, and she teaches science classes. Last year she taught anatomy and biology. This year so far, it’s physical science and biology.

Herrera says anatomy is her favorite subject to teach, helping students — including athletes — learn how their bodies work. As an athletic trainer, she emphasizes rehabilitating correctly from injuries. As a coach, she’s all about hard work, doing your part, being a good teammate.

“When you’re a good teammate, that’s what you’ll remember,” Herrera said, explaining that players remember other players and their contributions to the team more than specific wins and losses. “You always remember the girl next to you, if she did her part.”

Being a good teammate includes hustling, working hard, doing things right and learning from mistakes, Herrera said; and she expects results from everyone.

“I expect greatness from everyone,” she said. “I expect to win every game. I think my biggest focus is on playing with a purpose.”

Herrera said she feels at home on the ball field, working with her players. There are 16 girls on the 2019 Pawhuska fast-pitch roster.

“If I’m at home, at the home plate, doing my job, I’m at home,” Herrera says. She loves the game and tries to pass that along. “I try to get the girls to feel the same way.”

Herrera was a catcher and sometimes played third base. She won awards as a junior college player in Coffeyville, Kansas, and at Louisiana College, in Pineville, where she finished her bachelor’s degree. She attributes her approach as a coach to what she learned from her coaches, particularly her junior college coach in Coffeyville, and to her own hard work as a catcher.

“As a catcher you kind of do a lot extra,” Herrera said. She describes her style of play as loud and energetic. If you were sitting beyond the outfield fence in your truck when she was catching, you could hear her from her position behind home plate. She remains loud and driven as a coach and credits her assistants, Stephanie Jensen and Mikey Stroud, with doing a good job of balancing her personality.

Herrera said she particularly works on player attitudes and knows her players are watching to see how she handles different situations.

She recalls having a player display a bad attitude in a recent game. She removed the player from the game and replaced her with a substitute.

“It’s not fair to leave somebody in who just struck out and you’re gonna throw your helmet in the dugout,” Herrera said. “I’m not afraid to hurt feelings.”

On the other hand, she’s also not afraid to have a good time. She recalled that Pawhuska athletic director Chris Walker recently observed her when she danced for joy in front of her players, and complimented her on the emotion she brings to the game.

“I’m not afraid to have fun,” Herrera says,”but when it’s time to buckle down, it’s time to buckle down.”

Herrera said she tells her younger players not to take for granted that they have two or three more years to play. She encourages them to concentrate on winning now. She also makes an effort to get to know the personalities of her players.

“You can’t approach each girl the same way,” Herrera said. “It’s important to know your players.”

When she talked Friday to a Journal-Capital reporter, Herrera’s team had won two of the three games it had played so far this season. Some scheduled games had been rained out, so weather had not been the team’s friend to that point. Their next game was set for Tuesday afternoon at home against Hominy.