Saturday, April 29, 2017 | 2 a.m.
When Shan McDonald took the head coaching job for the UNLV softball team in 1987, the team’s field was crammed between the campus cafeteria and dorm rooms.
It was reminiscent of any random diamond at a local park, complete with chain link fences designating the dugouts and no more than a metal bench for players to sit on.
Fifteen years later, McDonald watched her team take the diamond at Eller Media Stadium. The $2.7 million, 770-seat, 2,186-square foot state-of-the-art stadium was built largely due to the team’s success under her watchful eye.
Thursday, the university will return the favor, inducting McDonald into the UNLV Athletics Hall of Fame.
“It’s a huge honor,” McDonald said. “I had 17 great years at UNLV and made some memories I’ll never forget.”
McDonald retired in 2003 as the program’s all-time winningest coach with 511 victories. She led the Rebels to seven-straight NCAA tournaments from 1990-96 and three appearances in the Women's College World Series.
In 1995, McDonald coached the team to the best season in program history, breaking or tying 30 school records while racking up a 49-14 record and a Women’s College World Series appearance.
“That year was the best time of my entire life,” said Amie Stewart, who pitched four years for McDonald and has already been inducted into the UNLV Hall of Fame. “I’m also thankful for her helping us get our degrees. The fact that she helped us to get an education for free was so much more than the athletic part of things.”
Stewart is one of five softball players in the Hall of Fame — all coached by McDonald.
“I feel like (McDonald) has had so much success that she should have went in before any of us,” Stewart said. “We had a lot of good players but she made everything happen, brought us together and built the program.”
But when McDonald looks back on her tenure at UNLV, she remembers the first two seasons the most. Teams that went 15-40 and 18-29 and finished near the bottom of the conference.
“They took a chance on me as a rookie coach,” McDonald said. “Those teams didn’t get that much credit because we didn’t get that many wins. But in the first two years, those athletes really helped set the table for what we were able to do. I have great memories about the progress that we made.”
McDonald coached each team the same, whether it was 1995 when they were ranked No. 3 in the country, or one of her two teams that finished in ninth place in the conference.
“She respected us and she let us just play,” Stewart said. “She put together a great lineup and just let us do our thing. She didn’t micromanage too much and let us be leaders.”
The 2017 class includes football great Jamaal Brimmer, golfer Ryan Moore and six others. The ceremony will be Thursday at the Strip View Pavilion inside the Thomas & Mack Center. It is open to the public and a limited number of tickets are available.