Softball coach steps down after 15 years in charge, three national titles

Retiring softball coach Cheryl Milligan poses for a portrait. Courtesy Paul Sweeney

Tufts softball coach Cheryl Milligan has decided to step down from her position after 15 years at the helm of the program.

Milligan said her decision to leave her post was not an easy one and was made based on the interest of her five-year-old son, Henry. Milligan’s husband, Jamie Pinzino, is the pitching coach at Army.

“I have been at Tufts since 2003, and my husband has been in Rhode Island, in Eastern Virginia, in Oklahoma, in Western Virginia and now at West Point. We’ve been commuting back and forth in this scenario for about five years since my son was born,” Milligan said. “He’s a little bit more aware of time and place, so I think last year we just told him that we were going on vacation and we moved to Massachusetts for four months. So he’s just a little bit more involved socially at school. It’s just hard having him in two schools, and he deserves a little bit of stability too … In choosing between that and being in two places and two different schools and life being a little too hectic, it was time really to put Henry first.”

Senior infielder Christian Cain recalled the moment when Milligan broke the news to the Jumbos.

“She sat us down in the film room, and I didn’t expect any of this. She told us that she has a son, Henry, who is five years old, and he’s been having to move back and forth … so it’s been really difficult for him,” Cain said. “She made the decision around him. She’s been putting softball as her first priority for a while, and now it was time for Henry to be that priority. Everyone understood that was the right choice. Everyone was sad but very understanding that her intentions behind the decision were really pure.”

The Jumbos saw much success during Milligan’s tenure, including a perfect 51–0 record in 2015. Milligan led the program to five NCAA title games, winning three in a row from 2013 to 2015 — the first team to ever accomplish such a feat. Milligan and her staff were awarded the National Coaching Staff of the Year in all three of those years.

Instead of highlighting her teams’ on-field accomplishments, Milligan pointed to the intangibles that have come with coaching the program for 15 years.

“Obviously, we’ve got a bunch of wins under our belt. That’s great and all, but I think what’s most important to me, though, is just the family that we’ve been able to create and maintain,” she said. “I just think that we managed to do what we set out to do — we’ve managed to take a bunch of really smart kids that nobody thought could ever win a national championship and [we won] a national championship and, at the same time, [maintained] the academic excellence that is expected of a Tufts student-athlete.”

Milligan also spoke of the coaches and student-athletes she will miss.

“We’ve had some tremendous lifelong friends in the athletics department amongst my peers, certainly [volleyball] coach [Cora] Thompson and [baseball] coach [John] Casey, other people who have been at my wedding, at my son’s christening — these are people that are part of our family for a long, long time,” Milligan said. “I’ll miss our student-athletes the most.”

Cain spoke to the legacy that Milligan will leave behind in the Tufts softball program.

“Our program is a winning program. We don’t settle for not being great, and I think she’s embedded that into our culture and that’s never going to change,” Cain said. “She set our tone and she set the culture, telling us to always have each other’s back.”

Temporarily succeeding Milligan will be associate head coach Lauren Ebstein. Ebstein graduated from Tufts in 2007, having played for Milligan as a pitcher during her four years on the Hill. She has been on Milligan’s staff in two separate spells, first as an assistant for two seasons and then returning to the same role in 2013.

Milligan joked that with the quality of the team that is returning this season, the Jumbos should perform at their typical high standards. Ultimately, she wished the team all the best going forward.

“Coach Ebstein has been at my side for quite some time now, and, obviously, I wish her the very best and hope that she will continue to take the program to new heights,” Milligan said. “It’s nice for the kids to have the stability going forward that they don’t have to wonder for a month, a month and a half while we do a search in terms of what’s going to happen [and] what their new coach is going to be like. For our athletes, it is a very big part of their lives and their Tufts experience, so it’s nice for them to have that pretty smooth transition. I will miss them dearly and I know that coach [Ebstein] is going to give 100 percent into making the team great.”