In a decade of coaching at the University of South Florida, Hildred Deese had never fielded a losing softball team. Slow-pitch.Fast-pitch. It didn't matter.
Until last season, when USF was 22-26.
But Deese plans to prove 1989 was an aberration and return a little normalcy to the 1990 season, which begins today at 6 p.m. as USF plays host to Bethune-Cookman.
Normalcy, of course, means playing - and winning - like the program that won slow-pitch national championships in 1983 and 1984 and then compiled an impressive 138-72 fast-pitch record from 1985 to 1988.
"We were young last year and we're still going to be young," Deese said. "We have four sophomore starters and five freshmen that will see plenty of action. But I feel we're coming in with more experienced youngsters."
That's especially evident with the Bulls' pitching staff, a potentially overwhelming trio.
Sophomore right-hander Traci Dudley, a finesse pitcher, led the team in wins (9-10 record), earned-run average (1.58) and innings pitched (137 1/3). Dudley is 12 wins shy of eclipsing the school-record (50) and also needs 50 innings to break that USF mark (362).
Sophomore righty Tracy Meade led the staff in shutouts (three) and strikeouts last year (40) and beat South Carolina 3-2. South Carolina went on to play in the eight-team NCAA championship.
Freshman Jill Klein, also a right-hander, did it all at Our Lady of the Lakes High in Michigan. She set the national record for career wins (123) and no-hitters in a season (13). Klein is the power pitcher of the trio, setting a Michigan record for consecutive strikeouts in a game (13).
"Jill has had great competition in high school, but it doesn't compare to what she'll see here at the college level," Deese said. "Usually, it takes a year to adjust, but if she can, we could have an excellent staff.
"I'm hoping that our strength lies in the pitching and defensive areas. If we can control those two areas, we feel like we can get the (key) hit to win ball games."
Deese, however, said the team's offensive potential is harder to predict with only a few proven hitters. But that's not to imply the Bulls will be powder puffs. They won't.
Senior centerfielder Lynn Dominessy, in her first year of fast-pitch, led USF in hitting with a .320 average.
Sophomore third baseman Robin Alamillo hit .280 last year but was 14th in the NCAA in triples (seven) and was 22nd in runs batted in (29). Deese said Alamillo will probably bat third or fourth in the lineup.
Leftfielder Christy Byrd, a sophomore from Brandon High, led the team in runs (12), walks (two), on-base percentage (.419) and stolen bases (12-of-14). Byrd will probably be the lead-off batter.
Meanwhile, if the preseason is any indication, Deese can expect big contributions from junior shortstop Laurie Gouthro, who is recovered from a broken tailbone and hit .323 in the fall, and sophomore first baseman Keitha Hall, the former Plant City star who batted .357 in the fall.
Other players to watch include freshman second baseman Carolyn Langfield and freshman catcher Shelly Carey, both from Laguna Hills (Calif.), freshman outfielder Joanna Hale, and senior designate hitter Noelle Heusser, who is recovered from reconstructive knee surgery.
"Yes, we have question marks," Deese said. "But we really have the makings of a very good team."