Lauren Karn kept her eyes locked on Sydney Campbell for the hour-long bus ride back to Oakland University from Michigan State.

The coach listened to her reliable pitcher, who’d just pitched in a loss to the Big Ten team. Karn saw the effects of the outcome seeping in. Once a Division 1 player herself, the coach couldn’t help but see herself in Campbell.

As a player, it was in those low moments that Karn learned about herself. She wanted the same for Campbell.

When Karn became Oakland’s head coach six years ago, she said many doubted her ability to lead the team to success. Those naysayers did not think she could attract star players across the country to play at a small school in Michigan. But the environment she fostered made players like Campbell stay.

“I could tell from the very first time we spoke that she cared about me as a person, and she cared about my goals and what I wanted out of my future … more so that she cared about me being able to pitch” Campbell said. “She just continued to prove that her focus was on us as human beings.”

[Courtney Wyche shines in Maryland softball’s 8-1 win over Loyola Marymount]

Her humanizing approach to coaching created sustained success for Oakland. Karn made it to four Horizon League championship games and earned conference Coach of the Year the past two years. Then Maryland found her to replace Mark Montgomery, who unexpectedly resigned in July.

Karn entered the interview process last spring with questions about support for women leaders, and was immediately impressed by the amount of women on the athletic staff.

But Karn wondered if coaching experience at a small Midwest school would live up to Maryland’s standards. After her conversation with athletic director Damon Evans, Karn knew the Terps would be focused on her successful history, not the prominence of the school where it happened.

As a mother of two young children, her experience parenting plays a role in shaping her coaching philosophy.

“Do you allow your kid to take ownership of decisions, or do you guide them the way that you want to?” Karn said. “ I think there’s a happy medium for that. And I don’t quite know yet because my kids are little .. but when it comes to our student-athletes, the first step is giving them the space to be wrong and be okay.”

[Maryland softball squanders late lead against UCLA, shuts out San Diego in doubleheader split]

Karn gave her pitchers and catchers at Oakland the freedom to call their own game. The coach found her players were able to react better to the game in front of them when they made the calls themselves.

Karn built trust between herself and players through an environment of familial relationships. Katey Hendershott followed Karn to Maryland after just one year on her staff at Oakland.

“In the one year that we were working together, I got close to her kids,” Hendershott said. “I know her husband well. My parents would watch her kids sometimes … So we developed a really close relationship.”

Karn’s move to Maryland also brought her closer to her parents and siblings. Her kids have already seen their aunts and uncles more than they had in their entire lives up to the move, Karn said.

With support from the administration, Karn is confident in her goals for the program. Chief among those is bringing home a Big Ten championship.

Oakland, under Karn, reached the Horizon League championship in four of her six years. People around her, including those she left behind at Oakland, emphasize how much she deserves this opportunity and reiterate their confidence in her and her work ethic.

“As much as I miss her and as much as I wish that she could be there throughout this last season of mine… I know that she deserves this opportunity and more,” Campbell said. “She deserves to succeed and I know that she can do it.”

Maryland softball coach Lauren Karn chatting with a softball player at afternoon practice on Feb. 13, 2024. (Sam Cohen/The Diamondback)