Tracey Kee can sense the excitement building around the North Texas softball program after her first season as the Mean Green’s coach.
That might be the most gratifying aspect of all for the former East Carolina coach when it comes to how her first few months in Denton went.
Kee had a veteran team returning with two players well on their way to ranking among the best in program history. UNT capitalized on the opportunity, setting a program record for wins in a season while finishing 31-22.
UNT’s season ended May 9 with a semifinal loss to Tulsa in the Mean Green’s first Conference USA tournament.
That performance created positive momentum that Kee expects to capitalize on during what will be a critical offseason.
“We took a small step in the right direction,” Kee said. “It’s a nice foundation to build upon. We created a lot of excitement and buzz in the area and within our school. That’s positive.”
Shortstop Brooke Foster hit a walk-off home run in her last home game and finished her career as UNT’s all-time leader in hits with 225, while pitcher Ashley Kirk capped her career by pushing her school-record win total to 61.
UNT lost both to graduation, not to mention key contributors Jackie Miller, Jordan Terry and pitcher Lauren Poole.
UNT also will have a new set of assistant coaches next season. Assistant coach Rone Robinson will not return next season after serving as UNT’s lone full-time assistant in his second year as a full-time coach with the program.
Kee left her spot for a second assistant coach vacant after not taking over at UNT until August. Kee overcame that late start.
“It seemed like she already knew us,” Terry said of Kee late in the season. “She welcomed us as her own, even though she didn’t recruit any of us. The way she approached it helped her connect with us right away.”
That connection helped UNT post a historic season in Kee’s first year at the school.
The challenge now will be reloading after losing so many key players. Kirk and Poole accounted for 28 of UNT’s 31 pitching wins. Foster batted .337 and hit 15 home runs, a third of UNT’s total of 45 on the year.
Kee began laying the groundwork to replace those players shortly after arriving at UNT.
“I was quite busy with the current squad, but I got out at every opportunity to try to build relationships with the community and team,” Kee said. “It’s a matter of dialing in and finding the right kids for this program.”
Kee felt much better about her chances of doing that after a solid first season with the Mean Green.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.