Nearly three weeks ago, Michelle Moultrie and Brittany Schutte were playing for a national softball championship as Gator teammates on a team that would eventually lose to Arizona State in the finals of the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Tonight, they take the field for the first time as members of the USA Softball national team, which has an exhibition doubleheader in Plant City as the team tunes up for the World Cup of Softball next month, then the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October.
Wearing the orange and blue is an obvious source of pride, but the chance to wear the red, white and blue is another kind of special.
"It's almost unreal we're playing for the USA. It's going to be a great experience," said Moultrie, a speedy 5-foot-3 centerfielder from Jacksonville who was named co-MVP at the Women's CWS. "When we first got invited, it was cool, but when you actually get the gear and have the stuff on, it's a whole different level."
Both players will be back at Florida in the spring — Moultrie will be a senior and Schutte a junior — hoping to improve on some of the best offensive numbers in college softball. Moultrie led the Gators with a .443 batting average and led the NCAA in total hits with 101; Schutte led the SEC and ranked third nationally with 22 home runs.
Their challenge for the next month, then again in October, is showing they can hold their own on a roster loaded with All-Americans. The team is headed by USF coach Ken Eriksen and trained at the Bulls' softball stadium on Friday. Eriksen said he expects contributions from both Gators.
"They have all the capabilities in the world, as they've proven in the college game," Eriksen said. "They showed really well at the tryouts (in California last week), and they're multifaceted. Moultrie can play any outfield position, and her speed (31 stolen bases) is very dangerous. Brittany is a very good outfielder, but she will go on to play catcher for (Florida) in the next few years. She's dynamic, and her bat is a very potent bat. She can hit for average and power, and definitely helps a coach get creative with the lineup."
Schutte of Fountain Valley, Calif., played primarily outfield for the Gators but earned a spot on the national team as a catcher. Her power at the plate is a strength, but she hopes to hone more specific skills during the summer such as situational hitting.
"I had a lot of moments where I felt like I could have come through, but I didn't," Schutte said. "I definitely want to be able to do that for USA (softball)."
The national team plays a doubleheader tonight against the U.S. junior national team, which features younger college players, including USF rising sophomore shortstop Kourtney Salvarola. Next are exhibitions next week in Virginia and Maryland, then the Canadian Open International Championship from July 9-17. Eriksen said players are aware of the pride in wearing their national colors, but they'll also come to understand the high expectations that come with that uniform.
"The best analogy I can give to fast-pitch softball and wearing USA is that you're wearing the NY of the New York Yankees. You're the most recognizable team in the world," said Eriksen, who was an assistant coach on the U.S. gold-medal team in the 2004 Olympics. "Team USA is the winningest program in the entirety of softball, so you're joining a program that has a strong presence in the world, on the field and off as ambassadors."