The national search for the Pennsylvania Rebellion’s first manager ended just 30 miles away from where it began.
At California University.
The Rebellion will begin its first season in the National Pro Fastpitch league with Rick Bertagnolli as manager. Bertagnolli has led the Vulcans to two NCAA Division II national championships in his 20-year stay as head softball coach.
Bertagnolli, 54, will hold both jobs and said the university has given its blessing. The Rebellion begin play at Consol Energy Park in June. They will compete in a four-team league with the Akron Racers, Chicago Bandits and the USSSA Pride, the defending champion headquartered in Osceola, Fla.
“Being the first head coach of the women’s pro league here is a great honor and very exciting,” said Bertagnolli.
“My expectations are to put together a great staff and coach the world’s greatest talent. I know a lot of people will be interested in this job, so I am going to do my best to field an outstanding team and put on a great show.”
Bertagnolli certainly has the credentials. He is in his 20th season with the Vulcans and has a record of 667-221 at the school. He guided the Vulcans to 17 NCAA tournament appearances with back-to-back national titles in 1997 and ’98.
Overall, Bertagnolli has a career coaching record of 929-271 and was recently inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“In his 20 seasons at California University of Pennsylvania, Rick has made the program a perennial national contender and raised the profile of women’s fastpitch softball in the region,” said Francine Williams, owner of the Rebellion. “He is a proven winner, and we’re confident he will continue to grow the fastpitch culture in Western Pennsylvania as he provides leadership to the Rebellion.”
Bertagnolli said one of the reasons he took the job was the passion the Williams family showed toward making the program work and increasing the recognition of softball in the area.
“For the Williams family, 100 percent of their thoughts are in backing the league,” Bertagnolli said. “I share the vision they have for fastpitch softball in the area.”
Bertagnolli said he doesn’t see any problems with a possible overlap of seasons with Cal and the Rebellion.
“It’s two totally different levels of running things,” he said. “The schedule doesn’t come into play. We’re practicing at Cal now and we play in February, March and April. May is the (NCAA) postseason. We open pro play the 30th, 31st. There is a little overlap but it won’t affect either team.”
Bertagnolli said there would still be enough time to recruit for California’s program and attend to the Rebellion players.
Bertagnolli acknowledges that recruiting for Cal might be easier with a professional league he also coaches just down the road.
“I’ll have my mornings free for the college, and the afternoon or evenings for the Rebellion,” he said of the summer recrutiing season. “A lot of recruiting is done through electronic and social media now.”
Bertagnolli is fourth among active coaches in NCAA Division II winning percentage at .774 and is the winningest coach in Cal’s athletic history.
Bertagnolli is a two-time NFCA National Coach of the Year, a four-time NFCA Regional Coach of the Year and a 12-time Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Coach of the Year.
He has coached 31 NFCA All-Americans, 80 NFCA All-Region Honorees and more than 100 All-Conference Players.
“I’ve been involved in the game in a lot of aspects,” said Bertagnolli. “I’ve been following this pro league, and I am familiar with the level of play and the talent for some time. I’ve even been asked to help evaluate that talent.”
Bertagnolli said he will begin filling the 23 spots on the Rebellion roster and assemble a coaching staff. The league’s draft will be held March 31 and two tryouts, one of them local, will be held.
“I hope to make this a positive outcome for Cal and the Rebellion,” he said. “I want this to have a positive outcome for the young kids playing the sport. Kids can see that they can play in a pro league someday. I want it to be positive for the softball in Western Pennsylvania and for all the coaches who coach in it. It’s not one-sided for me. I’m in it for the growth of the game.”