The race for the Sunshine Athletic Conference softball championship should be a tight one. The race for district championships should be close too. That is, if anyone knew what districts they were playing in.
The Florida High School Activities Association has delayed assigning schools to districts because more than half the schools in the state have been ordered to convert from slow-pitch to fast-pitch softball.
An FHSAA spokesman said the process should be completed shortly. A preliminary proposal was mailed to schools Thursday and it will be reviewed next week.
The delay was caused by a state legislative measure adopted by the Department of Education that calls for all high schools in Florida to convert to fast-pitch this year. So, Pasco schools have started their season but they do not know where they will end.
"I have no idea who to scout," said Gulf coach Greg Bollinger. "And how will the seedings go at the end of the year? What will it be based on? I hope that (the state) will put some thought into this and not just throw a bunch of teams together."
It's not even certain whether Gulf, classified 4A in most sports, will be in 3A or 4A. The same goes for Class 4A Ridgewood and Pasco's remaining 3A schools.
But most coaches said the delay won't have a big effect on their teams.
"One of the reasons we play in tournaments is to make sure we get the best competition," said Ridgewood coach Marlyn Bavetta. "We should be ready, no matter what district we're in."
Added Pasco coach Tom Ryan: "We try to schedule as many difficult teams as we can. The rest are conference games. And we have a pretty good conference."
Indeed, Pasco, with 11 players back from last year's district runner-up season, will be one of the favorites. Gulf returns pitcher Colleen Kahmer, the SAC player of the year in 1993, and has a solid supporting cast. Ridgewood, the 1992 Class 3A state champion, also is deep in pitching and Bavetta expects her team to return to championship form.
River Ridge is an up-and-coming team, and Jerry English, in his 19th season as coach, always has a solid team at Land O'Lakes.
Here's a look at Pasco's fast-pitch softball teams:
Coach: Greg Bollinger (seventh season).
1993 record: 13-8.
Top returnees: Colleen Kahmer, Sr., P, Sunshine Athletic Conference player year in 1993, 7-4, .300 BA; Liz Engel, So., P, 6-4; Michelle Wlowski, Sr., OF, .333, 5 HR, 21 RBI; Bernadette Parker, Jr., 1B, .372; Nichole Garrison, Jr., SS, .285.
Strength: Pitching. "Colleen is a four-year varsity player and Liz is a quality second pitcher ," Bollinger said. "And pitching is a major part of fast-pitch softball."
Outlook: "I feel real good about this year because of our pitching experience," Bollinger said. "If we hit the ball and score some runs I know our pitching will keep us in most games."
So far: The Bucs open at Zephyrhills on Monday.
Coach: Linda McQuade (fourth season).
1993 record: 12-11.
Top players: Jen Gilbride, Jr., P; Tara Ford, Jr., SS; Krissy Wolfle, Sr., C; Jenny Murrell, So., P.
Outlook: "I think we'll hold our own this year," McQuade said. "We return everybody except two players."
So far: The Cobras open Monday at Ridgewood.
Land O'Lakes Gators
Coach: Jerry English (19th season).
1993 record: 13-8.
Top returnees: Sarah Diaz, Jr., 2B; Mary Walford, So., OF; Dana King, So., SS.
Strengths: Defense, hitting.
Weakness: "It would be pitching if any, but that's coming along pretty good," English said. "We'll just need to be consistent."
Outlook: Very good, English said. "I have a positive bunch of girls."
So far: Land O'Lakes is 2-1 and plays at Pasco on Monday.
Coach: Tom Ryan (seventh season).
1993 record: 18-10.
Top returnees: Julie Solis, Sr., P; Nicole Sullivan, Sr., P; Adrienne Holmes, Sr., SS; Santrissa Mathews, Sr., OF; Melissa Gulvin, Sr., C.
Strengths: Experience, defense.
Weakness: Depth. "We only have 12 players," Ryan said.
Outlook: "I'm very optimistic," Ryan said. "We finished second in the district last year and return 10 of 11 players. And we have a solid defense. That will be our mainstay."
So far: The Pirates open at home Monday against Land O'Lakes.
Coach: Marlyn Bavetta (ninth season).
1993 record: 19-8.
Top returnees: Heather Boyer, Sr. C, .389; Lindsay Cassidy, Jr., P, 9-3; Jenn Krull, Jr., P, 9-3/1.60 ERA; Amber Martinez, Sr., 2B/P; Stephanie Voorhees, Sr., OF, .359; Vanessa Triglia, 3B, Sr.
Weakness: Hitting. "We need to get the bats around," Bavetta said.
Outlook: "We'd like to get back to a 20-win season," said Bavetta, whose team was Class 3A state champion in 1992. "I think we'll be competitive."
So far: The Rams play host to Hudson on Monday in the season-opener.
River Ridge Royal Knights
Coach: Tom Fleming (second year).
1993 record: 6-11.
Top returnees: Diane Macaluso, Jr., OF; Kelly Gale, Jr., C; Kenna Rogers, Fr., P; Paige Midkiff, Sr., OF.
Weakness: Pitching. "I wouldn't have said that a week ago," Fleming said, referring to the removal of eighth-grade pitcher Sara Tarnawski from the team by Pasco schools superintendent Tom Weightman. (Tarnawski, removed because she is an underclassman, will appeal the ruling at Tuesday's school board meeting).
Outlook: "I would be disappointed if we didn't go at least .500," Fleming said. "I can look at our schedule and see where we should win more than half our games."
So far: The Knights are 2-1 and play at Pasco on Thursday.
Coach: Pat Moul (second year).
1993 record: 3-21.
Top returnees: Kim Coleman, Jr., OF., .360; Erica McAdams, So., 2B; Tanya Schwartz, So., SS, 320.
Strength: Experience. "We have seven freshman back who played last year," Moul said.
Outlook: "We're very positive," Moul said. "We expect a big improvement over last year, to say the least."
So far: The Bulldogs opened Friday against Springstead and play host to Gulf on Monday.