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Following Leslie King, Christie Novatin will take over as coach of Penn Softball (Photo from Penn Today).

In many ways, the current state of the Penn softball program resembles the rebirth of the mystical bird from legends of old. 

After serving for nineteen seasons, former Penn softball coach Leslie King announced her retirement in January of this year. King left with her head held high, laying claim to the title of the most winningest coach in program history. Under her leadership, Penn won four straight Ivy League South Division titles and earned the program’s first ever NCAA Championship Regional appearance. 

Finishing the 2023 season with a lackluster record of 8-37, the hunt for the next long-term coach of the program was on. As of June 20, Penn believes it has found King’s successor in a rising talent who is best known for her championship experience and competitive drive: Christie Novatin

Novatin started off her collegiate career playing softball at Hofstra under Bill Edwards, a Hall of Fame coach who is largely regarded as one of the best offensive-minded coaches in the country. Playing for Edwards greatly influenced Novatin’s interests in becoming a coach.

“Coach [Edward]’s philosophy was always to be a student of the game,” Novatin reflected. “Once you’re a part of his version of that, you don’t want to go away.”

Through and through, Novatin is an avid competitor. As an assistant coach at UConn, she helped convert a team that was on a ten-year losing record streak into a program that won back-to-back Big East regular season titles. Her time at Princeton followed a similar track — the Tigers won two Ivy League championships during her four years — and even before that, she assisted in guiding the University at Albany to the 2014 America East championship. Success seems to follow Novatin where she goes, which she largely credits to her love of winning.

“Winning a championship is a feeling that you will literally chase for the rest of your life,” Novatin said.  “It’s part of what motivates me as a coach. I love to connect with my players and I love to teach the game, but I love to win, so I’m really excited to be able to bring back that championship culture that [Penn] is capable of having.”

Novatin won’t be alone in this journey. She remains in contact with King, and is grateful for the presence of an experienced mentor who is so dedicated to the players and the Penn program. However, Novatin also knows that if the team wants to achieve championship success in this next chapter of their history, she will have to stay true to her own coaching principles to help the team carve out a new identity: to form a new team borne out of the ashes of the old. 

“What’s really important is being able to be myself for this next chapter of the program,” Novatin said. “I do think that my game strategy has grown a lot with the background that I have, so I’m really excited to bring that to the team and have a different look at how we're attacking opponents and how we’re going to develop off the field.”

One of Novatin’s coaching strengths is a potent offense. While at UConn, the Huskies broke team records for almost all the major offense-related statistics. At Princeton, she helped increase the team’s batting average and slugging percentage. Her own passion for hitting as a player has come a long way in shaping her own philosophies when it comes to coaching for the offense. 

“I'm probably the black sheep of my group of alumni, since I love hitting,” Novatin admits. “I think that has been my real passion … I feel really good about my ability to prepare people in their skills and in their mindset; I think those are two really big parts of the game.”

However, this doesn’t mean that her coaching philosophy lacks defensive skill. After all, Novatin stems from a coaching tree that has always performed well on the defensive side of the ball. 

“I anticipate our defense being a really strong part of the game,” Novatin emphasized. “To me, it's the part that can show up every day while the pitchers and the hitters figure out how to get better.”

Already, Novatin has made it a point to connect with the players to ensure that they are ready for what she hopes will be a year filled with both success and change. Although the Quakers are unable to practice together quite yet, Novatin is nonetheless optimistic about who she will be working with this upcoming year and sees much opportunity for growth.  

“There’s a lot of potential in this group, and they believe in themselves,” Novatin said. “That’s going to be something we’re really going to hang on to heading into this [year].”

As someone with a wealth of championship experience, Novatin knows that victories aren’t won this early. The team will need plenty of time to grow into its full potential. Whether or not her coaching philosophies will translate into a winning softball team is something that can only be seen as time progresses. For now, Novatin is focused on taking one small step at a time, with the end goal of building a team that will be resilient when it matters the most. 

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Novatin said. “We’re going to have to work really hard. We’re going to have to chip away at the little things … but that’s the difference for championship teams. They are really tough late in the year, and have this 'refuse to lose' mentality.”

Between now and the beginning of spring season, the Quakers have roughly seven months to adopt Novatin's proven coaching strategies. During that time, Novatin will attempt to usher in a new golden era of Penn softball — much like a phoenix rising from the ashes.