Head coach Holly Hesse is in her 31st season leading the Bears’ program as the second-winningest coach in Missouri Valley Conference history with 781 victories.
Hesse joined the 700-victory club with a 4-0 win at Illinois State on April 18, 2015, completing a doubleheader sweep in Normal, Ill. She then picked up her 750th win on Feb. 9, 2018 with a 4-0 win over Mississippi Valley State at the Bulldog Kickoff Classic in Starkville, Mis.
She is the winningest coach in Missouri State history with a 781-767-2 record. Her tenure includes two regular-season MVC titles, five MVC tournament crowns and five NCAA Tournament appearances. Hesse recorded her 300th win in 2000, her 400th win in 2004, her 500th in 2007 and victory number 600 in 2012. Missouri State leads all schools with 72 wins in the MVC Tournament and Hesse is tied with the most tournament wins at 50.
Most notable program wins have come against Michigan (1996), Alabama (2006) and Oklahoma (1995, 1998, 1999, 2008) all of which have gone on to win NCAA DI National Championships.
Hesse has coached 34 different first-team all-conference players which have received 49 first-team all-conference honors. Twenty-one of Hesse's players have gone on to earn NFCA All-Midwest Region honors. Barb Gaines was a NFCA All-American in 1993 and Erica Shepherd (1997) and Jessica Gorham 2000, 2001) were CoSIDA Academic All-Americans. Nine of Hesse’s players have been inducted into the Missouri State Hall of Fame.
The National Fastpitch Coaches Association has recognized her program four times as a NFCA Division I Top 10 All-Academic Team including 1999, 2000, 2016 and 2017. The 2017 Bears ranked second in the nation with a 3.648 team GPA.
In 2016, the Missouri State University Board of Governors honored coach Hesse with the Staff Excellence in Public Affairs Award in recognition of her distinctive work and accomplishments in support of Missouri States public affairs mission.
The 2018 MSU Bears logged 32 wins -- the club's most since 2006 -- and finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season standings with a 17-8 ledger in league play. Kaitlin Beason earned NFCA All-Region first-team and MVC All-Defensive Team honors. Catcher Darian Frost snagged All-MVC first-team distinction with Beason, freshman Daphne Plummer and Erika Valasquez Zimmer earning second-team All-MVC selections. Senior hurler Holly Kelley also earned NFCA All-Region third-team honors. The Bears ranked 38th nationally in double plays turned and 40th in team fielding percentage (.970).
In 2017, the Bears finished with three all-conference selections, including first-team pick Bethany Sullinger, and three MVC Scholar-Athlete selections in Kaitlin Beason, Erika Velasquez-Zimmer and Sullinger. Velasquez Zimmer also represented the Bears on the NFCA All-Region Team. Junior Holly Kelley also stood out, earning a spot on the MVC All-Tournament Team after tossing an opening-round no-hitter against Drake, the first at the Valley Tournament in 27 years. Likewise, senior Mary Stephens earned NFCA National Player of the Week on Feb. 14 after a sensational opening weekend.
Hesse’s 2016 squad finished ranked 13th in the country with a .973 fielding percentage. The Bears went 22-30 and earned a spot in the MVC Tournament in a do-or-die series to end the regular season. Her team rallied to the challenge and carried the momentum to the MVC Tournament quarterfinals.
The 2015 Missouri State team catapulted into the upper echelon of the Valley by finishing second in the regular season and reaching the MVC Tournament title game. Behind Hesse's tutelage, the Bears set team records for home runs (48), bases on balls drawn (181), double plays turned (22), sacrifice flies (14) and saves (10). Senior Rebecca McPherson clubbed a program-high 12 home runs, while junior Erin Duewel set the all-time single season slugging percentage mark at .667 for Hesse's squad that won 17 MVC games, one shy of the school record.
Hesse and her long-time associate head coaches Sue Frederick and Beth Perine won their 500th game as a staff on March 13, 2014, a 4-3 win in the Bears' home opener against SIU Edwardsville.
In 2011, Hesse's Bears overcame an up-and-down regular season to play their best softball when it mattered most. Her Bears, led by Tournament MVP Natalie Rose, won four-straight games to earn the sixth Tournament title in team history. Rose hurled four complete games over three days including shutouts of Bradley and UNI on the opening day. Her team then went 1-2 in the Norman Region of the NCAA Tournament, knocking off Iona in an elimination game.
At the 2010 Valley Tournament, the Bears once again turned to their ace in the circle to surprise the field with wins over two of the league's top four teams, as sophomore righty Natalie Rose pitched six straight complete games to lead MSU to three wins in all before regular-season champ Southern Illinois ended the Bears' quest for a sixth NCAA bid with a 4-3 decision in the semifinal round.
At the 2008 State Farm MVC Tournament, the Bears rode the right arm of senior All-MVC performer Melissa Porche to wins over Evansville, Southern Illinois and Illinois State, moving MSU to within one game of an NCAA Tournament berth.
Missouri State's 40-17 record in 2006 included a second-place MVC regular season finish at 18-4, marking the 12th season during Hesse's guidance the Bears have finished in the top five of the conference standings. At the MVC Tournament in Omaha, Neb., Missouri State knocked off the regular-season champs, Illinois State, in the semifinals and defeated Wichita State for the title. The Bears' march to the championship included three wins by the score of 4-0, and marked the fourth MSU conference tournament title under Hesse's guidance. Missouri State advanced to the Los Angeles Regional, as the Bears made their fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament under Hesse.
The 2006 team's 40 wins surpassed the school's previous top win total of 38 set by Hesse's 1994 squad. The 2006 season marked the sixth 30-win season under Hesse, who has guided the Bears to an average of 26 wins per season since her arrival in 1989.
Hesse's most successful stretch at Missouri State came from 1994-98, when her teams averaged 32 wins per season, won an MVC regular-season championship and three tournament championships. The Bears advanced to the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons from 1996-98.
In 1998, Missouri State became the first team in league history to three-peat, winning its third straight Valley crown and again punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The Bears played in the NCAA Regional at Stillwater, Okla., and ended the season with a 31-22 record.
The 1997 season saw the Bears finish 35-26 and become just the second team in Gateway/MVC history to win back-to-back tourney titles. Missouri State claimed the league crown in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and represented the Valley in the NCAA Regional at Norman, Okla.
The thrilling, come-from-behind Missouri State win over Southern Illinois in the 1997 MVC winners' bracket final was Hesse's 228th career victory, making her the school's winningest softball coach.
In 1996, Hesse led Missouri State to its first MVC title and its first NCAA berth since 1983 as the Bears rang up a 34-22 record, won four straight games to collect the conference crown in Normal, Ill., before competing in the NCAA Regional at Fullerton, Calif.
Hesse won Gateway Conference Coach of the Year honors in 1992, after guiding Missouri State to a 14-4 mark and the regular-season title. In 1994, she led MSU to the Missouri Valley crown with a 13-3 record and was again voted coach of the year. The 1994 Missouri State club set a school record with 38 wins, won the MVC regular-season title by three games and took second in the league tournament, which MSU hosted.
Off the field, Hesse has been active in promoting the sport of softball, women's sports in general and the coaching profession. Nationally, she is one of the founding faculty members of the NCAA Women Coaches Academy, which was created to enhance the skills and perspectives of women coaches, and to aid in the retention of women coaches in intercollegiate athletics. Hesse served also on the Board of Directors for the Alliance of Women Coaches from 20012-16. She currently is on the Board of Directors for True North Sports, which provides innovative educational programs for coaches of both genders and all sports.
Locally, she is the former president of the Springfield chapter of the Women's Intersport Network (WIN), having served in that role from 2009-2012.
In 2003, Hesse authored a coaching book, which is available online, entitled "The Diamond of Success: A Philosophical Model for Coaching."
A 1982 graduate of Creighton University, Hesse came to Missouri State after two years as an assistant coach at her alma mater. Creighton compiled a record of 72-31, won a High Country Conference title and was ranked in the top 20 in Hesse's two seasons there. She was the first female to receive the coveted Father Reinert Scholar-Athlete award in 1982.
Before her two years in Omaha, Hesse served as an assistant coach for two seasons each at Iowa State University and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where she earned her master's degree in sport management in 1984. Hesse also coached for two seasons at Waukon (Iowa) High, her prep alma mater.
Hesse was a standout pitcher at Creighton, where she became the school's first 20-game winner and helped the Jays to three consecutive College World Series appearances including the inaugural NCAA Women’s College World Series in 1982.
A native of Waukon, Iowa, Hesse won an incredible 161 games as a pitcher for Waukon High. She was inducted into the Iowa Girls High School Pitchers' Hall of Fame in 1979.