McAlester High School for the past several years has had one coach run both its varsity softball and baseball teams. That’s a rarity in Class 5A, and most of McAlester’s biggest rivals — including Carl Albert, Durant, Bishop Kelley, Pryor, Tulsa-Memorial and Claremore — have separate coaches for each sport.

Justin Bond ran Lady Buffs softball last fall and Buffs baseball this spring. But once the spring season ended, according to McAlester athletic director John Homer, Bond said he wanted to focus on baseball year-round.

That opened the door for Kelleya Cox to become the Lady Buffs’ new head softball coach.

“He (Bond) concentrates during the summer with the baseball kids, and Coach Cox is down there with softball, so it’s going to be a good deal,” Homer said Thursday. “We’re excited about it.”

Cox comes to McAlester with 15 years of coaching experience. She was the head coach at Dale from 1998-2003, then coached for 10 years at Checotah, leaving after the 2012 season to spend more time with her family.

“A year was all I could stand,” Cox said Wednesday. “It’s in my blood. I came from a long line of coaches.”

Dale’s transformation into a top 2A softball program began during Cox’s tenure. That culminated in a state championship in 2003 right after she’d left, but the Lady Pirates had already been to several state tournaments with Cox before they won it all.

At Checotah, Cox led the Lady Wildcats to the 2007 state tournament. That 2007 team, she said, was also the academic state champion.

“Grades are my biggest deal,” Cox said.

“We’re here to get an education.”

Cox ran her first McAlester softball practice June 13, and the Lady Buffs will practice three times a week for the rest of the month. The team plans to compete in a summer league at the Pittsburg County Softball Complex in McAlester in July, just as they did last year.

Cox will also run the ninth-grade McAlester girls’ basketball team. She started working with that team June 5 at a camp in Kiowa.

“My grandson was born that day, the littlest one,” Cox said.

“I was at Kiowa, we were in the last game, and my daughter called and said, ‘I’m having a baby.’”

Cox described herself as an “old school” coach.

“I want you to be there on time, be at practice, give it 110 percent, and be as a team,” Cox said. “Not everybody’s going to get to play. Know your role.”

Cox, 47, grew up in Ardmore. She went to both Seminole and Butner High School, graduating from the latter in 1985.

Her schools didn’t offer softball at the time, but Cox said she played travel softball for several years. She also played high school basketball.

Passing up a potential basketball scholarship, Cox spent almost a decade away from academics before getting her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at East Central University in Ada in 1997.

Cox said she briefly served as an assistant basketball coach at Wewoka while getting her undergraduate degree, then took over at Dale. She eventually tested for certification as a high school teacher, then got her master’s degree in education administration at ECU in 2007.

“She’s a great teacher,” Homer said. “She’s going to teach math at the high school, and we just had good reports (about) her.”

Though she’s been here just two weeks, Cox said the Lady Buffs remind her of the Lady Pirates. There’s a “winning tradition” in McAlester, she said, and her players have already shown a strong work ethic, a desire to learn and improve and a sense of self-motivation.

Cox said that “Monday when we practiced, we already had girls who wanted to stay” late and get in some extra reps.

Assistant coaches Kelli Eales and Jenni McMurray helped instill that work ethic in their players. Cox said both will remain with the team despite the change at the top.

The Lady Buffs last made State in 2011, so they’re hungry to get back. They made the regional championship in 2013, but defensive errors cost them a chance to advance.

Poor defense also plagued the 2012 Lady Buffs.

“Before (Wednesday’s) practice was actually over, I had the girls run a mile,” Cox said.

“We ran that mile because, just like I told them, the first thing that goes when you’re tired is your mind. We told them, ‘If you’re playing a team, and they’re tired,’ they’re going to make mistakes on defense.”

Cox comes to McAlester having taken both of her previous teams to State at least once.

When The Lady Buffs open their season Aug. 11 at Wilburton, Cox will begin trying to make McAlester her third state-qualifying school.

Contact Matt Goisman at mgoisman@mcalesternews.com.