Head Coach Joe Abraham cel­e­brates with his team after a win last season. (Photo: Jessica Taylor | Courtesy)

After seven seasons as the head coach for the Hillsdale softball team, Joe Abraham will be leaving the Chargers. He accepted the head coaching position at the Uni­versity of Toledo, a NCAA Division I program, announced on July 25.

The Hillsdale Ath­letic Department announced late Monday that Abraham’s replacement will be Kyle Gross, who recently coached at NCAA Division I schools Kent State Uni­versity and Pres­by­terian College in 2016 – 2017 and 2017 – 2018, respec­tively. 

Coin­ci­den­tally, Gross also coached at Toledo earlier in his career.

During his tenure with Hillsdale, Abraham led the Chargers to six 20-win seasons, earning a record of 158 – 136, making him the second-win­ningest coach in program history. 

Abraham earned the GLIAC Coach of the Year award in 2016 after leading the team to a 26 – 12 record, his best single-season mark at Hillsdale. In 2018, the team’s first year in the G‑MAC, he helped the program win its first-ever con­ference tour­nament. The 2018 Chargers went on to qualify for the NCAA Division II Regional Tour­nament, beating Grand Valley State Uni­versity in their first game before losing their next two.

During his time as head coach, seven players earned first-team all-con­ference honors, and 11 players earned second-team all-con­ference honors. 

Senior out­fielder Katie Kish, recipient of first-team all-con­ference honors, was taken aback when she found out Abraham was leaving. 

“I did not expect it at all,” Kish said. “I was hoping it was just a bad joke someone was playing on me.” 

Most players were shocked by Abraham’s departure, but it gives him the chance to explore new oppor­tu­nities as a head coach.

After a suc­cessful career at Hillsdale, Abraham explained that becoming the head coach at Toledo gives him the oppor­tunity to accom­plish some of his long-term goals. For example, he is now able to move closer to his family in Columbus, Ohio. 

Moving from a Division II program to a Division I program also offers its own ben­efits. 

“It’s a move up, it’s more money, it’s more budget, it’s more every­thing, and then that’s hard to turn down,” Abraham said. “The only way I would have left Hillsdale, more than likely, would have been for a Division I [school] in Ohio.” 

While current players were sur­prised by his decision to leave, most agreed that Abraham is well-deserving of this new oppor­tunity. 

Senior infielder Amanda Marra summed it up in seven words: “No one deserves it more than him.”

The Chargers will use this fall season to overcome the great chal­lenge of the unknown as they prepare for another strong spring season. 

Kish offered an opti­mistic take on the sit­u­ation, looking forward to the new squad. 

“Our fall season will consist of a lot of tran­si­tioning to a new coach, new freshmen, and new senior lead­ership, but by spring I antic­ipate us all being on the same page ready to start where we left off last year with a con­ference cham­pi­onship,” she said.

Each player will miss some­thing dif­ferent about Abraham’s coaching style, but perhaps what will be missed most of all is his ded­i­cation to helping them succeed in the classroom. 

“He put a lot of trust in his players and gave us the tools we needed to think and play the game for our­selves,” Marra said. “He also took interest in us as people and stu­dents and made sure we always had what we needed to succeed.” 

Senior infielder Jessica Taylor will miss her time with Abraham off the field as much as she will on the field. 

“My favorite memory about Joe is just sitting in the office and talking with him about non-softball things,” Taylor said. “He was basi­cally our team’s life coach off the field.” 

Abraham will also miss coaching the Chargers, citing the quality of the players he coached. 

“The one thing I already miss, and am gonna greatly miss, are the players on the Hillsdale team,” Abraham said. “It’s impos­sible to duplicate that.” 

Gross has little time between his hiring and the first time he will lead the Chargers from the dugout. Hillsdale has three games scheduled during the fall before its con­ference season begins in the spring.