Strange start? You bet.
The team doesn't have a field on campus. More than half the players are freshmen and will compete in the nation's toughest conference. The coaches haven't coached a game in 20 months. And the ball is optic yellow.
Welcome to women's intercollegiate softball at the University of Washington.
Sixteen women started 1993 drills yesterday on the carpet of Husky Stadium. They are unlikely to set foot on a softball field until Feb. 25 in a tournament in Tempe, Arizona. The first home game won't be until April 1, about 30 games into the season, and probably will be played in Bellevue.
But stick around. From this unglamorous start, something interesting could develop. The ingredients may be in place to turn fastpitch softball into the No. 2 UW women's spectator sport, behind basketball. It could happen as early as next year.
Unlike men's fastpitch, which usually is a pitchers' duel with about as much scoring as soccer, the women's collegiate game has plenty of action.
"I wouldn't want to be an umpire in this league," said junior Angie Marzetta, referring to all the close plays.
Five years ago, the NCAA moved the pitchers' rubber back 3 feet to 43 feet to reduce strikeouts, which dropped to about four per seven-inning game. This year, the Pac-10 is using the livelier yellow ball with a tighter cork center to put more power hitting in the game.
"Now that we're putting the ball in play more, the attitude is, `Let's put it over the fence more,' " said Teresa Wilson, UW head coach.
No one is more eager to get the season under way than Wilson, 31, and her assistant, John Rittman, 28. They coached together at Oregon for three years and at Minnesota for two but haven't had a game since the UW hired them from the Golden Gophers in September 1991.
"We're a little itchy to play," Wilson said.
Their time has been spent recruiting, conducting clinics, making contacts and conducting fall practice. They also have been involved with planning for the $2.4 million softball field scheduled to be built for next season on a site about 150 yards from Graves Field, the baseball facility. Hidden Valley Park in Bellevue is the tentative home field for this year.
Softball and women's soccer, which started in the fall of 1991, were added to the UW sports menu to comply with a state Supreme Court ruling to increase athletic offerings for women. Softball's budget for this fiscal year is $286,000.
Wilson, a former All-America pitcher at Missouri, and Rittman coached winning teams at Oregon and Minnesota. Their 1989 Ducks finished fifth in the NCAA tournament.
Wilson and Ritter won the Big Ten title in their second and final season at Minnesota. They accepted Washington's offer because they wanted to return to the Pac-10 and because recruiting is easier.
"When recruits step off a plane in the middle of winter in Minnesota it's a real rude awakening," said Wilson.
Wilson handles pitchers and catchers. Rittman coaches the outfield and hitting. They share the infield responsibilities. If they want a third opinion, they can ask Rittman's wife, Lorie, a former All-American at Oklahoma.
The Pac-10 is the nation's strongest conference. UCLA has won seven championships and Arizona one since the first NCAA tournament in 1982. Stanford is adding the sport this year and the only schools without it are Washington State and USC.
"We feel we can finish in the middle of the Pac-10 if we get a few breaks and everyone stays healthy," Wilson said. "Our big thing is not letting being a first-year team become an excuse."
Marzetta, a tri-captain who played last year at Central Arizona Community College, said the Huskies "aren't intimidated at all by the Pac-10."
The team has nine freshmen, one sophomore and five juniors (all junior-college transfers).
The start of the sport was perfect timing for Tami Storseth, a freshman from Kirkland's Juanita High School.
"This is where I wanted to go to school since I was about 10," she said.
Storseth is one of seven in-state recruits. Most of the others are from the softball hotbed of Southern California.
Pitcher Stephanie Burns, from Wenatchee, arrived on campus with a fastball, dropball and changeup. She is working with Wilson to develop a rising pitch.
Top college pitchers throw in the mid-60 mph range. Huskies pitchers will offer a demonstration at Thursday's men's basketball game against Oregon State.
Storseth admits she doesn't know what to expect but is enjoying the serious yet friendly atmosphere.
"I love how everyone works hard here," she said.
The introduction of softball will put some new words into the vocabulary of Huskies fans. One of them is "slap" - the technique of batting left-handed and running toward the pitcher. The batter then drag bunts, tries to hit a line drive or attempts to chop the ball. With the bases only 60 feet apart, a grounder that bounces twice before it reaches a fielder is often a single for a speedy runner.
"You are more dangerous as a left-handed hitter," Marzetta said. "They don't know if you are going to bunt, they don't know if you are going to slap and they don't know if you're going to try to knock it over their heads."
(Home games tentatively scheduled at Hidden Valley in Bellevue) Feb. 25-28 - at Diamond Devil Classic, Tempe, Ariz. March 2 - at Arizona State. March 3 - at Arizona. March 4-7 - at Arizona Classic, Tucson, Ariz. March 12-14 - at Texas A&M Tournament, College Station, Tex. March 20 - at St. Mary's, Moraga, Calif. March 22 - at Stanford. March 23 - at California. March 25-28 - at Pony Tournament, Fullerton, Calif. March 30 - at UCLA. April 1 - vs. Simon Fraser, 5 p.m. April 3 - vs. Oregon, 1 p.m. April 4 - vs. Portland St., 1 p.m. April 9 - vs. Arizona St., 1:30 p.m. April 16 - vs. UCLA, 1 p.m. April 18 - Willamette, 1 p.m. April 23 - at Portland State. April 24 - at Oregon. April 25 - at Oregon State. April 30 - vs. Stanford, 2 p.m. May 4 - vs. Arizona, 6 p.m. May 6 - vs. Oregon St., 2 p.m. May 7 - vs. California, 2 p.m.