Since taking over as head coach in 2004, Don Danklefsen has transformed the Trine softball team into a conference powerhouse and regional contender, and taken the program to the ranks of the nation's elite.
Danklefsen has led the Thunder from their first season in NCAA Division III. His teams have appeared in the NCAA Regionals 12 consecutive times, capturing four Regional titles and three Super-Regional championships. The 2014, 2017 and 2019 campaigns saw the team reach the NCAA Division III Softball Championship. Along the way, he has led Trine to a 477-166 record, a stout winning-percentage of .742. Danklefsen and his staff have been named the NFCA's Central Region Coaching Staff of the Year four times, including back-to-back honors in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, the Thunder led the nation in slugging percentage, earning the title of statistical champions for that category.
The Thunder have become a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament under Danklefsen, having reached the Regional round every season since 2008. The team has hosted an NCAA Regional three times, winning their own Regional in 2014 and 2016. Danklefsen led the Thunder to their first Super-Regional appearance in 2014, where the Thunder swept Emory to advance to the National Championships. Trine won its Second Super Regional title in 2017 on its home field, defeating Wisconsin-Oshkosh in two games.
The 2019 postseason campaign set a new standard for the Thunder, as they would blaze their way through both Regional and Super-Regional rounds in undefeated fashion. On the way, they would go viral at an international level by using a hidden ball trick to record the final out of the Super-Regional. Video of the play would reach ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 status before being aired on news and sports programs across the country and even as far as Japan.
The team would follow up with their most successful trip to the NCAA Division III Softball National Championship in program history, ultimately finishing tied for third in the nation. The finish marks the best by a Trine University team in the school's NCAA era.
Under Danklefsen, Trine has also captured MIAA regular-season titles in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019. Danklefsen has led the Thunder to the MIAA Tournament crown six times, including four in the past six seasons. During the 2014 season, Trine set the all-time MIAA mark for most consecutive wins with 46- a streak that eventually reached 49 games.
Danklefsen has coached Thunder players to numerous individual honors, including eight appearances on All-America teams. Carly Searles earned three All-America honors and set three NCAA records during her time at Trine, while Andi Gasco joined Searles as the program's first All-Americans in 2013. Searles and Bree Fuller went on to earn Academic All-America honors as well, with Fuller earning the distinction twice. Kaylee Fox became the first Thunder freshman to earn All-America honors in 2015. Fox would add earn the award during her senior season in 2018 becoming only the second player to be named to the First-Team and achieve All-American status multiple times. Kendra Marshall and Erica Robles have also been named All-Americans in recent years.
The Thunder have produced five MIAA Players of the Year under Danklefsen- Rainbow Bednarski (2007), Andi Gasco (2012), Sarah Belote, (2013), Carly Searles (2015) and Makenna Hartline (2019). Danklefsen has also coached six MIAA Pitchers of the Year- Elise English (2008), Andi Gasco (2012, 2013), Bree Fuller (2014), Justine Robles (2015) and Hannah Kampmann.
In 15 seasons as a member of the MIAA, Danklefsen's teams have produced 41 First-Team All-MIAA selections and 38 Second-Team All-MIAA selections. Danklefsen's players hold every major batting and pitching record in school history. Most recently, Kaylee Fox set Trine's all-time home runs and RBIs records during her career.
Danklefsen's players also hold several national records. During the 2015 season, Searles became NCAA Division IIIs all-time leader in hits, triples and runs scored. Belote holds the national records for most home runs, RBIs and total bases in a game. Three Thunder players have tied the national record with two home runs in an inning.
Danklefsen graduated from Trine (then Tri-State) in 2003 with a degree in Sport Management. While at Tri-State, Danklefsen was an emotional leader for the Thunder basketball team and was named a team captain during the 2002-03 season.
Danklefsen promotes a program that values team chemistry, dedication and putting team goals above oneself to achieve the highest level of success.
He and his wife, Holly, have two sons, Easton and Nolan.