Kurt Goluba, an assistant coach for the River Ridge softball team the past two seasons as well as the father of ace Makenzie Goluba, has been hired to replace longtime coach Ernie Beck, becoming the program's third coach.
Goluba, who has coached little league and travel ball teams in Pasco County, inherits the best softball program in the county from Beck, who begrudgingly retired at the end of last season after concluding his fifth year in the Deferred Retirement Option Program.
In 19 seasons, Beck won the district championship or finished runnerup 16 times. The Royal Knights won 20 or more games 12 times, and Beck's career record was 429-137.
"Absolutely there's a little bit of pressure,'' Goluba said. "The team making the regional final last two years in a row, that creates a little bit of added pressure but I'm confident we'll get there and go further this year. I don't want any dropoff in production."
Goluba inherits a team that returns almost everyone, include Tampa Bay Times player of the year Kenzi Maguire, first-teamer Madisyn Palmer and his daughter, who last season became the school's all-time leader in victories. Makenzie Goluba enters the 2014-15 season 56-8 with a 0.91 ERA.
"We lost some top players, like Morgan Tolle, but I still have a pretty good group returning,'' the new coach said.
Despite the program's success, River Ridge (26-4 last season) hasn't had enough players to field a junior varsity team the past two seasons. Kurt Goluba said he hopes to change that this season.
"We definitely want to keep this going,'' he said.
Two area nominees for inspiration honor edged
Mira Costa (Calif.) cross country coach Renee Williams-Smith won the Brooks Coaches Inspirational Award, beating out Land O'Lakes cross country coach Kris Keppel and Lightning Bolt track coach Garlynn Boyd, the two finalists from the bay area.
Williams-Smith won $10,000 in Brooks running gear and $2,500 for team expenses this upcoming season.
Keppel and Boyd were recognized as two of the 25 finalists. They each received $5,000 in Brooks athletic gear and $500 for team expenses for the upcoming season. Each finalist was invited to the awards ceremony in Seattle, where the winner was announced last week.
Keppel led online voting but other criteria went into selecting the overall winner.
"It was an honor just to be a finalist," Keppel said. "It was great trip, and I was able to visit extended family in Oakland during my time out West."
Gators' Pearson resigns
Land O'Lakes boys soccer coach Mark Pearson has resigned after 16 seasons.
Pearson led the Gators to three state final four appearances, including runnerup finishes in 1999 and 2012. Last season, the Gators were district runnerup, finishing 13-8-1 and falling to Citrus in the 3A region quarterfinal.
Pearson, 42, said he decided to step away to spend more time with his family. Since his father was his assistant coach, Pearson doesn't expect his replacement to come from within the program.
He is sure, though, that whoever takes over the program will enjoy the same things he did the past 16 years.
"(I'll miss) seeing players lift trophies after long seasons, when you put in the time and effort we put in," Pearson said. "It's always something that's great to see."
Staff writers Kelly Parsons and Bob Putnam contributed to this report.