Lacey Waldrop has had success at every level. 

Two ACC championships playing for Florida State, a national championship as a graduate manager for Oklahoma and consecutive National Pro Fastpitch championships playing for the Chicago Bandits represent only a fraction of what she has accomplished. 

Now, as an assistant coach for the Blue Devils, she thinks those winning habits can translate to her new environment.

“There aren’t many programs that have the kind of family atmosphere that I’ve seen here, which is one reason why I feel right at home,” Waldrop said. “Culture-wise, it’s very similar to places I’ve been.”

That culture drew Waldrop to take a leap of faith to join the coaching staff for Duke's new program, and her brand of coaching has already left a lasting impression on her fellow coaches and the players. 

“She’s fantastic, just a really quality person and someone you love to be around,” head coach Marissa Young said. “She’s very relatable to the kids, which is huge in getting them to understand how to handle what's up and coming in the season from a physical and mental standpoint.”

In their inaugural season, the Blue Devils are fielding an extraordinarily young team. Of the 17 players, 12 are either true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Waldrop is a freshman in her own right, as this is her first official coaching position—for her players, though, the lack of coaching experience doesn’t matter. 

Jill Ferraro, nicknamed “grandma” on the team, is by far the oldest player on the roster and a strong voice in the locker room. A graduate transfer from North Carolina, Ferraro is only two years younger than Waldrop. 

“With Coach Lacey, [her age] doesn’t really play a factor,” Ferraro said. “You could have a coach 20 years older than her who hasn’t had half the experiences that she’s had. She got to where she is today not just because of her work ethic but because of her mentality.”

In fact, many players are glad that the Waldrop and the rest of the staff are young. Star pitcher Katherine Huey noted that all the coaches, from former Big Ten Player of the Year Young to Waldrop to former Hofstra catcher Laura Valentino, are both accomplished and relatable. 

“It’s so cool how a lot of our coaches are fairly young, so they were just in our shoes and it’s not like they were coaches 50 years ago," Huey said. "They know what they’re doing, they’re experienced, they’ve played at the highest level and just because they’re young and haven’t been coaching for 20 years doesn’t really make a difference to me.”

In her first year coaching, Waldrop has focused on developing a young pitching staff. She knows that her pitchers are strong athletes, but is helping them with the mental side of the game and knowing how to mix pitches to stay ahead of college hitters. 

As a two-time ACC Pitcher of the Year and three-time All-American with the Seminoles, she has the accolades to back up what she preaches.

“She isn’t a cookie-cutter type of coach where she wants everyone to do the same thing," Huey said. “She works with our strengths. She always has a plan for us, but if we want to work on something that day, she kind of bases it off of what we think we need. She’s really flexible and always willing to go the extra mile to make us better pitchers.” 

Waldrop’s soft-spoken nature and positive approach resonates with the team. She doesn’t yell at players the first time they make a mistake, but rather reminds them of what went wrong and is sure to tell them that it can’t happen again. 

“Lacey really balances us out,” Young said. “Coach Laura and I are more fireballs and more vocal, and she’s the one that reins us back in and gets us to see the positives.”

As much as her players and fellow coaches appreciate having Waldrop on staff, the quiet mentor is still adjusting to her new job.

“It’s much more of an authoritative position, which is different for me,” Waldrop said. “I’m still able to relate to the girls because I’m not so far from their age. But they respect me and I feel in control of what I’m able to teach them and help them.”

Waldrop is a calming force for her pitching staff, teaching them how best to execute under pressure. A veteran of ACC play, she is eager to share her experiences to help prepare her players for the most intense situations. 

Being successful under pressure will be vital this season, especially in a cutthroat ACC when wins may be hard to come by for the fledgling Duke team. The Blue Devils were predicted to finish last in the conference, but are already exceeding expectations with a 6-3 record through two weeks of nonconference play and are ready to keep proving people wrong.

“A lot of people are underestimating us because it is our first year,” Waldrop said. “But I think we’ll still turn some heads and everyone will know that we are going to be a force to be reckoned with, even if we’re young.”