NORTHRIDGE, Calif. ---
Nearly every winter, most ballplayers spend their time working on that one skill that has eluded them despite time and experience: their golf swing.
Such is the course of life for the boys of summer. But in college athletics, where resources and development are more precious, time is something that can ill afford to be mismanaged. So count CSUN softball coach Tairia Flowers among those excited for start of training camp in preparation for the 2014 season.
Entering her fourth year at the helm, Flowers' winter was hardly spent on the putting green. She and her husband Jason, the CSUN women's basketball head coach, added another child to their family in late November, daughter Tristyn Aulani.
So for most of 2013, whether she was leading the Matadors in the spring and fall or serving as the head coach the USA Junior National Team over the summer, Flowers was working for two people. All that has changed for the pending spring and that has Flowers ready to lead CSUN back to prominence.
"I am excited to see the girls get ready for the upcoming season. I certainly will be more mobile and out on the field than in the fall and that will allow me to work more hands-on and be more in the fire with the players," Flowers said.
The pieces are certainly in place. Coming off a tough 2012 season, CSUN won 15 more games in 2013 and posted the sixth-best turnaround in all of Division I. At the plate, the Matadors finished with more home runs than their opponents (23-21), smashed 65 doubles and raised its team batting average and on-base percentage more than 50 points.
In the circle, CSUN pitchers lowered the team ERA by more than one run (4.99/3.07) and surrendered the fewest home runs in the conference. The team also showed a flair for the dramatic, scoring walk-off victories over Pacific and UCLA, the program's first win over the Bruins since 1998.
The team boasts a strong core of returning players, led by a three-member senior class: Tanna Bindi, Jennifer Tyler and Leann Lopez. Bindi collected her first career home run in historic fashion, helping lead CSUN to the walk-off win over UCLA.
Juniors Crystal Maas, Abby Linn, Sydney House and Brianna Elder all made signifigant strides in their second season of Division I softball. Finally, sophomores Maylynn Mitchell, a 2013 All-Big West Honorable Mention selection, Ariana Wassmer and Madalyne Handy all have that year of experience under their belt.
And by all accounts, even more help is on the way. The 2014 Matadors have brought in nine true freshman and two transfers to the squad to join the nine returning letterwinners. Of the rookies, Rebecca Bell, Aliyah Ricks and Daphne Pofek are all accomplished prep pitchers looking forward to their first taste of college softball.
Offensively, CSUN figures to be a much faster, more athletic squad this spring. The arrival of freshmen Taylor Glover, Carissa Sherman, Madison Fleming, Tara Kliebenstein and Katie Hooper are explosive athletes who should make Northridge much more dangerous on the basepaths as well.
Toerner is an outfielder whom transfers into the program after two seasons at Bakersfield College. She is the daughter of former Matador All-American Kathy Toerner. Sauceda is a junior pitcher who spent two years at San Jose State.
"Our team has a new, aggressive outlook for the upcoming season. We will have more speed and athleticism and that should enable us to do more things on the diamond while being fun to watch," Flowers added. "Our work ethic in the circle was good this fall and we have a nice mixture of pitchers who all bring unique qualities and abilities to the team. We are excited to see all our newcomers respond to game situations."
Additional help for Flowers and the Matadors comes in the form of new coaches. Joining the staff in her first coaching role in Division I softball is former Arizona All-American and US Olympic Gold medalist Lovie Jung. As the team's volunteer assistant coach, Jung, who herself recently had a baby girl, will work with the team's infielders and hitters in addition to administrative duties.
"Having another set of eyes, especially ones that have seen and played the game at the highest level, is always helpful," Flowers said of Jung. "Because this is her first foray into coaching college softball, Lovie brings a different perspective to drills and other aspects that is invaluable to the coaches and student-athletes."
All in all, there are lots of indicators that this could be a special season for the Matadors. With the start of the season just weeks away, Flowers is ready to see how CSUN performs and develops. That means she may have to wait a little longer to work on short game, but Flowers is just fine with that.