Heading into season eight at the reins of the AWC Softball program, Nikki Bethurum is building on yet another successful season at Arizona Western College. She led the team to 40 wins for the third straight season while also coaching two-time ACCAC Player of the Year Jessica Flores on the way to the Region I Playoffs. In 2014, she took the program to the NJCAA National Tournament for the first time since 2001, and the top-seeded Matadors wound up finishing 8th overall with a 49-9 overall record (39-5 in ACCAC play). Bethurum got out of the gates very quickly as a head coach, taking advantage of her first opportunity to run her own program by leading the Lady Matadors to wins in the first round of the Region I Playoffs in both 2010 & 2011-the first time the Matadors had seen the postseason since 2006. AWC Athletic Director Jerry Smith gave Bethurum the opportunity to be a head coach after seeing how focused Bethurum was, and after talking to longtime University of Arkansas at Monticello Head Softball Coach Alvy Early about what she did for him as his lead assistant. Early gave Bethurum a lot of extra coaching duties along with her duties as Recruiting Coordinator and pitching coach during her three-year stint at UAM. Bethurum’s tutelage helped lead the Lady Cotton Blossoms to the Gulf South Conference West Championship and a berth in the NCAA Division II South Regional Tournament in her first season on the staff, and in 2009, she helped lead the Blossoms to a 38-16 overall mark, a 2nd-place finish in the GSC’s West Division, and her pitching staff featured the conference’s Pitcher of the Year. Bethurum made the transition from player to coach very quickly. A 19-win pitcher as a senior for Downey High School and a member of four different traveling softball teams that all qualified for nationals, Bethurum was the first signee of the 2001 recruiting class for University of California-Riverside in the inland empire. After spending her freshman campaign as UCR’s top pitcher, the native of Downey, California, made the decision to head out of the Golden State for the first time by transferring to the University of Louisiana-Monroe. Despite nagging shoulder problems that stayed with her throughout the season, Bethurum was ULM’s top pitcher and hitter. Those same injuries forced Bethurum to move from pitcher/first baseman to shortstop for her final two years as a player, but she started every game and she was an All-Southland Conference Honorable Mention selection as a junior. Nikki also made the honor roll at ULM all three years she was there, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from ULM and graduating with honors in 2006. Bethurum earned her Master’s Degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock in 2009, and besides her coaching duties, is a Professor of Mathematics at AWC.
2016 marks the 13th season in the AWC Softball program for Mark Garcia. Garcia first stepped onto the clay at the AWC Softball Field in 2004, and has made the program better ever since. Garcia has done a little bit of everything for the three Matador head coaches he’s worked for over the last decade, and Nikki Bethurum credits Garcia’s work with the team’s catchers as one of the big reasons why the Lady Matadors continue to reach the playoffs. Garcia has seen a total of nine Matador Softball teams reach the postseason during his tenure, including the Region I Championship (and NJCAA National Tournament appearance), seven Region I Semifinals appearances and a Region I runner-up squad. Garcia hasn’t just been a top-level coach in the sport of softball. As a player, he’s played primarily as a catcher in men’s fast-pitch softball at the National and World level, and later pitched for a team in Mexico. Mark’s coaching experience also includes a local travel team, and brings strong management skills to the program from his current position as a manager at Albertson's Super Market. Garcia is married to Laura and has three children, Mark Jr., Angie and Erin.
There’s only one person still on the AWC campus that has been around the Matador ball fields longer than Miguel Villarreal. And even though that man, Jack Watson, the man who originated the AWC Baseball program, was the school’s first athletic director, and is now a longtime Matador assistant baseball coach, has an incredible resume, it’s Villarreal who can say that he’s been able to make a difference for BOTH AWC spring sports. Villarreal was all about baseball when he first arrived on the AWC campus in the 1980’s as a high school catcher looking to perfect his craft. It was a young John Stratton who first took Villarreal under his wing, and it was the way that that same 27-year head coach, Stratton, handled his charges that first inspired Villarreal to want to move into coaching once his playing career was complete. Nearly three decades later, it’s Villarreal who’s trying to be that same type of mentor as he works to improve the skills of the Matador infielders as a Matador Assistant Softball Coach. Villarreal began coaching summer travel softball teams, and more than a decade later, he’s still doing it, including coaching one squad to a national championship in Salem, Oregon, and leading another to the championship game the next year. Villarreal also spent time on the high school coaching level as an assistant for Kofa High School’s softball program before coming to AWC. Miguel and Mark Garcia aren’t just side-by-side in the Matador Softball dugout, since they still play men’s fast-pitch softball together. Villarreal and his wife, Loretta, have a son, daughter, and two granddaughters.