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Barksdale excited to take over as Vandy's new softball coach

Vandebilt's new head softball coach Jessica Barksdale (Photo by Submitted photo)

Replacing a coaching legend is never an easy task.

But new Vandebilt Catholic softball coach Jessica Barksdale said she understands the situation she is walking into, and she is ready for the challenge.

The 28-year-old Barksdale officially took over the Lady Terriers program on Tuesday. She will replace former Vandebilt coach Margaret Johnson, who retired as the school's head softball coach after 24 successful seasons that included seven state titles and six runner-up finishes. Johnson stepped away from coaching softball this year to move into a full-time role as Vandebilt's athletic director.

Barksdale, a River Ridge native, joins Vandebilt after a six-year stint as an assistant softball coach at John Curtis Christian.

While it will be her first head varsity coaching job, Barksdale said she is more fired up than nervous about becoming the coach at Vandebilt, a program that has won 14 state softball championships and five state runner-up titles in its history.

"I think I'm just excited," Barksdale said. "What better program to be a head coach for and be a part of. I think it's going to be a good fit. I thank Margaret and Vandebilt for giving me this opportunity. We're just going to work hard and win some games. I can't wait to get started."

Barksdale, a former standout pitcher at John Curtis from 2001-04, who moved on to a college career at Nicholls State University from 2004-08, said she is no stranger to Vandebilt's softball program.

During her prep days, John Curtis and Vandebilt were old Class 4A district rivals in the early 2000s, and Barksdale said she remembers the classic showdowns the Lady Patriots used to have against Johnson's Lady Terriers at the state tournament in Sulphur. Barksdale guided John Curtis to 4A state championship game victories over Vandebilt in 2003 and 2004.

After leaving Curtis as a player, she joined Nicholls State's softball team under former coach Jenny Parsons. She finished as one of Nicholls' Top 5 career leaders in strikeouts, and she was inducted into the American Softball Association Louisiana Hall of Fame as a fast-pitch pitcher last year.

As an assistant coach, Barksdale was a member of Curtis' nationally ranked softball team, which captured its third straight state title this season. She also coached for the New Orleans VooDoo fast-pitch travel softball organization.

Barksdale said softball has always been a major part of her life, but she wasn't interested in coaching it at first. She said she originally planned to attend cosmetology school and become a make-up artist or hair stylist. She credited Kristy Hebert, her former coach at Curtis, for raising her interest in coaching.

"Once I started coaching, I just fell in love," Barksdale said. "Now I just can't think about doing anything else."

Now Barksdale said she is thrilled to take over a Vandebilt program she once played and coached against. Along with her head softball coaching duties at Vandebilt, she will teach physical education and coach junior-high volleyball.

"I'm pretty familiar with the program and what Margaret has built," Barksdale said. "Margaret has done a pretty good job of instilling things in the program. It's respected around the area and the state. I just want to add whatever I can to the program. I'll have Margaret as my mentor. I'm pretty excited about the chance to work with her."

Johnson said the search for her replacement as softball coach attracted several great applicants. She remembered Barksdale's days as a prep standout and later as an assistant coach at Curtis, and she said that body of work made it easy for Vandebilt's search committee to hire her as its new coach.

"I really got to see first-hand what kind of competitor she is," Johnson said. "She was a talented pitcher in high school, and she is a good coach. She is somebody that has knowledge and passion for the game. She is going to come and lead our kids and care about their future success, not just on the softball field. I believe she'll come in and do that."

Johnson said she wants Barksdale to have a smooth transition without any pressure in her new job. Johnson said she knows the pressure that young coaches face when they take over head varsity positions for the first time, and she is willing to help out any way possible.

"I'm excited to have a young coach coming in," Johnson said. "Jessica loves the game, and she loves working with kids. I can't wait for her to get started. Like I told her, 25 years ago, I was a young coach moving into my first head coaching job at the varsity level at Vandebilt. I had a lot to learn, and to this day, I'm still learning a lot. I'm glad to have her aboard. I'm ready to work with her and try to guide her into being a great head coach."