The Game Changer
“What the heck have I gotten myself into?”
It was 1995, and Michelle Frew was the new women’s softball coach—the program’s first full-time coach, in fact, for a team that had previously disbanded due to lack of interest. She had no scholarships to offer and no home field. The Tars used the Winter Park High School field for fall practice and the old naval base field (what is now Baldwin Park) for games in the spring. That field was so unkempt that Frew met opposing coaches in the parking lot to apologize beforehand.
In her interview for the position, Frew recalls the athletic director telling her, “We’re not expecting anything big. You really just need to compete.” She thought, “This is crazy.”
She had just moved from nearby Ft. Myers, where she’d been coaching at Edison Community College. Her husband hadn’t moved to Central Florida, and they were trying to determine which job opportunity would pan out best. Frew couldn’t imagine that it would be hers.
She called her husband nearly in tears: “What the heck have I gotten myself into?” Her first year at Rollins, the softball team didn’t finish last. They went 22–27—not a good record, but the best in the program’s history. The next year, the team recorded its first winning season, going 28–16 and placing fourth in the Sunshine State Conference (SSC). In year three of Frew’s tenure, the team won 34 games and finished third in the SSC, and she was named SSC coach of the year.
The ball was rolling.
And then she quit.
Besides coaching softball, Frew was also the assistant coach for the women’s basketball team. She and her husband were trying to start a family, and her doctor said something had to give. She asked Rollins if she could give up basketball. “Rollins wasn’t prepared to do that,” she says.
So she resigned. Her hiatus lasted only a year. Rollins called and said she could be just the softball coach if she returned. “I couldn’t wait to come back.”
And come back she did. Her departure cost the program some momentum, but by 2002, the Tars banked a school-record 36 wins and their first winning record in division play. In 2004, the team broke the 40-win barrier, another school record, and received the program’s first invitation to the NCAA championship.
That year, they even got their own dedicated, state-of-the-art field at Lake Island Park (now Martin Luther King Jr. Park), which is still considered among the best in the conference.
This upward trajectory wasn’t always linear; there were seasons when the team didn’t perform up to expectations. But the trend was clear: 2006, 45 wins; 2007, 41; 2008, 39; 2009, 47. That year, the Tars won their first SSC championship. Heading into this season, the team has four straight
40-win years, three straight SSC championships, and has been consistently ranked among the best programs in Division II. To cap it all off, on February 24, Frew won her 599th and 600th games at Rollins in a decisive doubleheader against Fort Valley State University.
For all her program’s accomplishments, there’s one thing Frew hasn’t won yet—a national title. “Someone told me once we’d never win a conference championship,” Frew says. “We’ve done it three times in a row.”
Indeed, in 1995, no one expected her to piece together winning seasons, much less a string of 40-win years, much less three-straight SSC titles, much less being nationally ranked. So when she says her team will compete for a national championship, you get the sense that this is less an aspiration than something Frew will make happen, by force of will alone if necessary. After all, as Frew says, “Everything people said we couldn’t do, we made it happen.”