Jacob Grace made the decision to return to Vanoss as the new head softball coach so he could watch more softball.
Grace said the move will free up more time to watch his daughter Jaylee, a fifth-grader, play softball on the weekends with her travel team. And of course, he’ll be coaching her throughout her career at Vanoss. Grace has been the head baseball coach at Durant High School for the past three years.
“It just came down to being more available to my family,” he said. “I’ll be closer to home (he and his family live in the Roff area). I look forward to coaching Jaylee and being around her more.”
Grace and his wife, Tori, also have another daughter, Averie, who will turn 2 in August. Grace could start coaching Jaylee — who will enter the fifth grade this year — right away. At some small schools like Vanoss, fifth graders can be used to fill out a junior high roster.
“Most schools our size use sixth graders for junior high softball anyway,” Grace said. “Roff, where she was previously, had even used fifth-graders on their team because of low numbers.”
Grace said his plan all along was to get out of coaching baseball. But before the Vanoss job opened, he was going to stick around Durant for a while longer.
“I knew in three to five years I was going to be out of baseball anyway because I didn’t want to miss her games while I was coaching somebody else. It was an opportunity to make that switch a little earlier than I planned, but it was coming anyway,” he explained.
Grace said he loved his time as the leader of the Lions’ baseball program.
“Going to Durant was really good for me. They were extremely good. It was a great job. It was an amazing opportunity,” he said.
Now, Grace is returning to the school where he spent six years teaching and coaching baseball before heading to Durant.
“It’s a school and community that I know. I know they support their students. I know the community, family members and administration want what’s best for the school. It’s a good place to be right now. It was a place I called home for six years,” he said. “I continued to keep up with Vanoss even during my three years at Durant. I’ve always kept up with those kids.”
During his time as the Vanoss baseball coach, Grace guided the Wolves to the state tournament in the spring of 2016. Vanoss defeated No. 5 Sterling and No. 12 Amber-Pocasset in regional play to earn the state tournament trip. It broke a 32-year state drought for the Vanoss baseball program.
Now he’ll try to lead the Lady Wolves to the state tournament in softball. Grace spent several weeks with most of his VHS players in a summer league and liked what he saw.
“I feel like we’re going to be really good defensively and really good in the circle,” Grace said. “We have some athleticism in a lot of different spots. There’s a lot to like, that’s for sure.”
Junior ace Riley Reed missed those summer scrimmages due to injury. But Grace said he expects to use four pitchers this fall Reed, Brinn Brassfield, Jaycee Underwood and Maggie Stone.
“I haven’t got the chance to see Riley Reed pitch. I know who she is and know what she’s capable of. It may be good for her to take a little time off because she throws a lot of innings,” he said.
“I’ve got to see Brinn throw and we’ve also got two other girls that have had the chance to throw a little bit in Jaycee Underwood and Maggie Stone,” he continued. “We have four girls I am pretty confident in putting the circle. That’s kind of nice right there.”
Grace said only about a dozen players have attended those summer scrimmages and he’d like to see his roster expand some heading into the fall.
The Lady Wolves will get an early start on preseason practice. Grace is having them report for duty on July 19 to get an extra week that some schools don’t utilize.
“We’re going to have to implement so much that’s going to be new to them so I wanted that extra time,” he said.
Grace said he believes his Vanoss squad can make a strong postseason run.
“No 1, we’re going to play the game hard and play the game right regardless of who we are playing,” he said. “The expectation is we want to play in the state tournament.”
Vanoss opens the 2021 fastpitch season Aug. 10 with a road doubleheader with Rush Springs.
“I get to spend more time with my daughter and we have a team that could be very successful so that’s exciting,” he said.