Tracey Kee begins her seventh season as the head softball coach at East Carolina on Wednesday. She recently took a few moments to take a quick look at the upcoming season.
This past season was your first season in Conference USA, how did you think the competition was?
"Conference USA is a phenomenal softball conference. DePaul, South Florida, and Southern Miss are perennial NCAA Tournament teams. I think for our first year to go in and make the tournament was a very big accomplishment, especially dealing with the travel schedule and new competition on weekends. It's a different format, much more competitive than what we have competed against previoulsy."
What do you think the keys are to making the tournament this year?
"This year, obviously our returners have a better understanding of how travel will affect you, the competition is and the competitiveness of the other teams. The hard part is going to be getting the younger group to understand that we have six freshman and one junior college transfer. Seven of our 15 student-athletes have never even experienced Conference USA, much less Division I softball. We still have high expectations. Our goal is to make the conference tournament because once you make that, your in the position to have a good showing and end up in the NCAAs."
Do you think the talent of the younger group will be able to overcome the obstacles of everything new?
" I'm hoping.They all come from winning high school programs and phenomenal summer programs, so they have been in tight situations. Obviously, this is a huge jump for them, but they're very talented as a group and they will be in some impact positions. We'll have a freshman at catcher and shortstop, and a junior college transfer in center field. They are going to be called upon to step up early and often, and I think they can do that."
How has your pitching staff shaping up for the new season?
"We have a very young pitching staff. We have four pitchers, three freshman, and one sophomore who is a walk-on. We are looking at a very young core at that position. However, I think that it is the toughest position to play in college softball because there is so much intensity and so much pressure on you. Hopefully we have prepared them well. Since August they have done a phenomenal job of conditioing themsleves, getting stronger in the weight room and developing movement on their pitches. They understand we're not asking them to throw no hitter, and we're not asking them to throw complete-game shut outs, but to keep us in ball games and let the defense work behind them."
Entering the season you are only nine wins shy of 300 career victories. Who and what do you attribute your success as a head coach to?
"That's just a credit to the team and the kids that have played in this program. I 've been fortunate enough to have had some wonderful players, that were also great students and very involved in volunteering throughout the community. It's just a credit to them and what they accomplished. As a coach I think the best thing we do is recruit them and sell them on the school. Then it's just a matter of preparing them, but they do all the hard work. So, those 291 wins go to every kid that has played for me in this program."
Your season opener is Wednesday against North Carolina. How do you feel about that?
"It's a huge rivalry, we've been playing Carolina home and away for years on end and it tends to go back and forth. We lost to them in the fall by one run so that has been a good little driving force. A lot of people are wondering why we schedule such a tough team right out of the gate, but you know you've got to start somewhere. If we can go out there and compete and compete well, and just lay it on the line, win or lose we'll learn from either."