In 2015, Lauren Karn was in the dugout for the Pittsburgh Panthers in the regional stage of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) tournament as an assistant coach.
The regional stage took place in Michigan, which had Karn confused. Why would they have both the University of California, Berkeley and Oakland University — two California schools — at a regional tournament in Michigan?
After some scouting, Karn debunked the common misconception that OU is in Oakland, California, and defeated the Golden Grizzlies in the tournament.
Two years later, Karn was named the head coach of Oakland Softball after spending three years as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh.
A softball player her whole life, Karn spent her college career at Saint Joseph’s University, where she pitched for four years. Her 534 career strikeouts set a university record, and she threw two perfect games while in college.
While at Saint Joseph’s, she learned about the coaching profession from her mentors, and realized that coaching full-time might be the path for her. After coaching summer ball while at school, she realized she wanted to pursue a career in coaching.
Her first opportunity came at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. From there she worked to find out what coaching role and school type fit her best.
“The mid-major level is the best fit for me,” Karn said. “The balance between academics, athletics and personalities of the student athletes is something that jives with my personality.”
Getting to know the student-athletes on a more personal level is what really drew Karn to a mid-major school like OU. According to Karn, it’s more difficult to establish that personal relationship at high major schools.
“At a power five level there’s a lot of other stuff that comes with the job,” she said. “At the mid-major level you’re just afforded more of an opportunity to actually get to know the students off the field.”
Throughout her time at OU, Karn has grown as a head coach. OU was her first head coaching gig, and the biggest thing she’s learned is to be patient.
“I’ve learned to be better at patience,” Karn said. “Having a better understanding that my reactions and way that I respond to something is looked at by every single one of my student athletes.”
In Karn’s first season as head coach, the softball team made it to the championship round of the Horizon League tournament, but fell short of winning.
“That was quite a bummer to us, honestly, because we had really good chemistry and we had all of the pieces,” she said. “We just didn’t have a ton of postseason experience, and I think that’s where we fell short.”
This past season, Karn and the team were very confident in their ability to win the Horizon League before the pandemic canceled their season.
Now, they return the entire roster and are looking to capture the league title, like they believed they were going to in the spring.
“I believe that we have the pieces to get there again,” Karn said.
The only difference is the schedule. The softball team will face zero out of conference opponents, meaning they must work out any “kinks during conference games,” according to Karn.
Since there’s only conference games, the team will adjust preparation in the offseason to try and get ahead of those kinks that arise during a season.
“Right now we’re working to keep our team more process oriented and less results oriented,” Karn said. “If the team can stay process oriented the results will eventually come.”
To keep the team focused during this time period, Karn and her staff are trying to be as creative as possible.
“We’re doing everything we can to balance out game-like scenarios and make sure we’re training our skillset,” she said. “That’s the only way we can keep it fresh and not do the same thing multiple days in a row.”