Tomahawks taking on new looks this spring

MERRIMACK – Merrimack High School athletic director Mike Soucy is walking around during early spring season tryouts with a big grin.

Why? Because he feels his baseball and softball programs are in great, not just good, hands.

It was a tough off-season for both sports after a tough 2018 spring in which both teams missed their respective Division I tournaments. Soucy opted to make a change in softball, hiring former St. Thomas coach Greg Cochrane. He may have left baseball untouched but philosophical differences led to Kyle Harvell (now an assistant at Pinkerton) stepping away after just one season. But then Soucy found former Merrimack assistant Kevin Moyer among a big pool of candidates. And he’s thrilled. It’s always difficult for programs to have three coaches in three years, which was the case for both.

“We lucked out with both hires for sure,” Soucy said. “The kids are the ones who tell you the truth, right? And so far it’s all positive across the board. The girls are excited about softball, the boys are excited about baseball. It’s a win-win.”

Moyer had spent some time on the staff under former Tomahawks coach Nick Jaskolka.

He played his high school ball in Georgetown, Mass., but played his college ball right here at Rivier University where he got entrenched in the area. He left MHS after the 2015 season to be on the staff at his alma mater. He had worked in the Merrimack system for the better part of seven years, and while doing so was also coaching under former ‘Hawks mentors Ryan Anderson and Jim Davala.

But a couple of years ago he moved back up to the area – he teaches in the Windham school system – and jumped at the chance to return to Merrimack.

“Being familiar with the program, the resources we have, the expectations of the community, this is certainly a situation that worked out,” Moyer said. “I think this is an opportunity I can really take advantage of. The talent pool is there. … It’s a good fit for everybody.”

As soon as Moyer was hired, he met with his prospective players, reached out to the seniors to make everyone more comfortable.

“We talked about things that had happened in the past,” Moyer said. “Different coaching philosophies, what my coaching philosophy was. Just kind of letting them know that my plan is to be here a long, long time. And that my coaching philosophy was going to be different from some of the previous coaches.

“But a lot of it is still the same expectations. We preach that you should be responsible to yourself, to the team, be committed. A lot of the core philosphies, nothing’s changing, it’s just kind of the approach about how we go about our business.”

“He brings a maturity to it,” Soucy said. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders, good background in education, he gets kids. He understands that there’s a balance between making the boys work very hard and letting them have fun at the same time.”

Moyer is learning the difference between being a head coach vs. an assistant.

“A lot more responsibility for sure,” he said with a grin. “A lot more than just showing up to the field with a bucket of balls hitting fungos. … I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of really good coaches who helped prepare me for this opportunity. … It couldn’t have come at a better job, a better place.”

He moved back to the area two years ago and was looking for the right head coaching job. “When Merrimack opened, I was licking my chops,” Moyer said.

Moyer, at a recent parents night, preached positive energy. “I thrive off positive energy,” Moyer said. “I was that kid in the infield who never shut up. … And at the high school level, you have to adjust to what you have.”

Moyer is happy with the fact the Tomahawks return a deep pitching staff and the entire starting infield. And a lot of these players he knew from his time teaching in the system when they were younger.

“I’m here,” he said, “for them.”

Meanwhile, Soucy is glad Cochrane is here, period, because he was afraid he might not be available.

“I was a little worried, we dragged this out a little longer,” Soucy said. “We had 15 applications for baseball so we focused on that first and put softball aside for awhile. I was afraid we were going to end up losing him in the end.

“We made him wait a little bit, but we’re thrilled. He knows what he’s doing, he’s changing the culture.”

Cochrane said he kept in constant touch with Soucy and preferred Merrimack to some other jobs that were open.

“I always wanted to be at a bigger school, and run a full program,” Cochrane said. “It just became more and more appealing to take over here. … Mike was very, very good about keeping communications with me, and I really liked what he was saying to me.”

Cochrane had success in four years at St. Thomas, four tourney teams and a 13-4 team a year ago that had injury woes and lost in the quarterfinals. He also coached in Massachusetts at Saugus High School as an assistant.

Cochrane found a group willing to accept change when he took over.

“It’s easy to implement change, especially when they want change,” he said. “These girls want to be successful, they want somebody to hold them to a higher standard, and that’s what I’m all about.”

“I think it’s awesome,” Merrimack senior third baseman Jess Trahan said. “We’re all excited to play. He’s a great coach, he’s really into it, which makes it fun for us. It’s nothing like we’ve had before.”

Tomahawks senior shortstop Brenna Davenport agreed. “It’s almost having a breath of fresh air having coach Cochrane come along,” she said. “Almost like saving us in a way. This is the most motivted I’ve been for a school season.”

Soucy wanted his softball program to move forward. It had lost its JV program a few years ago, got it back last year, “and I just want it to grow. … It was a tough year last year. So we needed to make a shift, a change, change the attitude behind the program, and we needed a leader who was going to be able to do that for us and certainly Greg’s the one.”

Cochrane wants effort, and wants to see how his team might respond to adversity.

“I have a strong view of what I want,” he said, adding he’s getting great help from his assistant Erin Trka. “I feel these girls are a talented group, just need to find-tune it a little bit.”

Maybe it’s pre-season optimism, but there’s no denying the fact that right now, the Merrimack baseball and softball programs are singing the praises of their new coaches.