T.J. Goelz and the Mustangs won two state championships in five seasons, the first championships in program history.
The Lakewood Ranch High softball program has its eyes on a state championship three-peat come spring — but if the Mustangs achieve it, it will be under a new coach.
T.J. Goelz announced Monday morning that he would be stepping down from program after five seasons, primarily to spend more time with his family. Goelz's daughters, Kinsey Goelz and Avery Goelz, play softball at the University of Florida, and T.J. Goelz said he wants to spend as much time watching their games as possible.
According to MaxPreps records, Goelz compiled a 122-10 record, including state championship wins in 2021 and 2022, the first in program history. The team was also a championship contender during the 2020 season, when the Mustangs went 8-0 before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season early.
Goelz will also be stepping away from coaching his travel team, Tampa Mustangs-TJ, which won the 2015 PGF Premier 16U National Championship among other accomplishments.
For some, the news of Goelz stepping down may come as a shock. Goelz is not one of them. Unbeknown to most, Goelz and his wife, Liz Goelz, have done the same calculations for the last three seasons. In the previous two, the calculations came back positive: Thanks to various schedule quirks like playing away games in Gainesville — and being just crazy enough to catch a plane to see a Gators road trip the day after a state championship win —T.J. Goelz would be able to give 100% of himself to the Mustangs while also giving 100% to his family and other areas of his life.
Even though the loss of the 2020 high school softball season still stings Goelz, who believes Lakewood Ranch would have been not just state but national champions, the COVID-19 pandemic helped keep Goelz as the Mustangs head coach longer than he might have otherwise. For instance: Normally, the Gators play in the four-day Mary Nutter tournament in California each season, something Goelz would make sure he traveled to watch, even though it likely would have interfered with the Mustangs' season. In 2021 and 2022, the Gators skipped the tournament out of COVID-19 concerns. They will play in the event in 2023.
"I didn't want to put myself in the position of having to choose between my family and the team, because being the competitor I am, I know which I would probably choose," Goelz said with a laugh. "It just would not be right for anyone. I can always come back to coaching if I want. I can't get those memories with my family back."
Multiple Mustangs players expressed their gratitude for T.J. Goelz and Liz Goelz on social media platforms.
"Forever thankful for the opportunity to play for you," junior pitcher Ella Dodge said on Twitter. "Thank you (coaches) for your dedication and all the sacrifices you have made to give us the most memorable seasons. Super blessed to have you guys."
Junior outfielder Grace Shaw-Rockey expressed similar sentiments and thanked Goelz for helping build her up as a player and a person.
Taking over for Goelz will be Todd Lee, who coached the school's junior varsity program last season and is the father of Mustangs varsity infielder Amanda Lee, a senior. Lee will retain varsity assistant Paulo Reis and Craig Toler, both of whom were vital to the Mustangs' successes and instilling Goelz's culture in the program. The decision to promote Lee into the position was Goelz's idea, he said, in order to keep as much continuity for the players, particularly the seniors, as possible. Goelz himself will stay on as an advisor, meaning Goelz will give Lee and the other coaches big-picture advice — but only if they want it.
"Todd is doing an admirable thing," Goelz said. "It's a tough situation to follow after back to back championships. But he and everyone have committed to creating the best possible experience for the girls. As far as on-the-field decisions, that's all them. A three-peat is extremely hard to do, but they have the pieces to be successful. They'll leave it all on the field like they always do."
Though he is stepping away for now, Goelz said there is a possibility — perhaps a strong one — that he returns to the dugout at some point. Like the decision to leave, the decision to return would come down to timing, so it will likely not be happening while his daughters are playing collegiate softball — Kinsey Goelz is in her final year with the Gators, but Avery Goelz is a junior. After that, the door is open.
That applies as much to his Tampa Mustangs travel team as it does to Lakewood Ranch. Goelz said when he met with Lakewood Ranch principal Dustin Dahlquist and athletic director Kent Ringquist to inform them of his decision, they told him he was welcome back at any time, even in a different sport.
"I'd probably stick with softball, but it was a nice gesture," Goelz said.
Any talk of that will come a long way from now. Goelz said he is ecstatic to spend the maximum amount of time with his daughters as they finish their college careers.
"We have created a tradition as a family," Goelz said. "Liz and I go to every away SEC series and stay in the same hotel as the team. Then we get up in the morning and the four of us get coffee and maybe a doughnut or other food and we walk around the campus together, just checking it out and talking. Already I'm getting excited about doing that just by talking about it. It's a priceless time that I've not always been able to have. This year, Lord willing, I don't think I'll miss an inning."
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