North Texas Daily

Softball coach Tracey Kee looks to break new ground

Softball coach Tracey Kee looks to break new ground

Softball coach Tracey Kee looks to break new ground
February 03
23:37 2014

Chris Scarborough // Intern Writer

After spending 26 years at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., Tracey Kee will have a new beginning as the next Mean Green women’s softball coach.

Starting the season with a completely different roster has been an energizing beginning to her career here.

“I would say the adjustment from being at a school to going to a new school has been quite refreshing,” Kee said. “I look at it as a new environment, a new group of people.”

Kee’s championship experience, recruiting efforts and focus on building player-coach relationships are qualities that can help the softball team’s overall success.

After playing four years of college softball at ECU, she received the opportunity to coach at her alma mater as an assistant from 1991 to 1996 and then as a head coach from 1997 to 2012. At a young age, Kee knew she wanted to be a coach.

“The more I got into it, the more I realized that coaching is teaching,” Kee said. “It’s establishing relationships with young individuals and understanding how to get the best out of them.”

During her 16-year career as head coach, she took ECU to the NCAA tournament four times, won the Conference USA Coach of the Year award three times and won the Conference USA Tournament Championship in 2010 and 2011. She accepted UNT’s offer to become head coach in August 2013.

Kee’s time at East Carolina ended when the school fired her in the midst of a school investigation in May 2012 that revealed a hostile environment, financial issues and other violations as well. Kee declined to comment on the investigation.

During the interview process, in which athletic director Rick Villareal brought in both administrative staff as well as players, Kee left impressed by the vision of the future of Mean Green athletics.

“They understood that they wanted this program to take a step and in regards to that, they have helped me do it,” Kee said. “Giving me the reins of the program and saying  ‘Here you are, now what are you going to do with it?’”

New Talent, New Opponents

One area Kee is looking to explore is the wealth of talent in the state. Kee said she has previously recruited players from Texas high schools and travel teams. However, it was tough to convince the players to make the move to Greenville, which is more than 1,100 miles from the state border.

Since joining UNT, though, she’s been recruiting locally and already looking to add to the roster.

“I’ve been out to local high schools, been out to local travel teams, just really trying to lay the groundwork to establish these relationships where these kids feel, ‘You know what? North Texas is a good place,’” Kee said.

Kee is also excited about the Conference USA schedule. This season, the Mean Green will be playing the University of Texas and Oklahoma State University at home, as well as more big names on the road, including the University of Georgia on Feb. 8 during the team’s season-opening tournament.

“I looked at our schedule [last year], and when you see Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor, it truly feels like a super regional [a postseason tournament],” Kee said. “To be able to be so close to such quality teams and to be able to get them on your schedule, as a coach, that is what you live for.”

Kee said she was concerned about adjusting to a different roster, but she has loved teaching and building chemistry with her new players.

“I can’t credit the kids enough.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the 18 kids on this team,” Kee said. “We have our ups and downs, our good days and our bad days.  But as people, students and student-athletes, I think that part was where I was most scared, and that is my favorite part.”

The students are also adjusting well to Kee’s coaching methods.

“I feel like she puts all she has into us and the program,” senior infielder Jordan Terry said. “So it makes us feel good to know that we have someone in charge of us who really cares about us and this program.”

Freshman pitcher Kenzie Grimes was not recruited by Kee, but had an encouraging first meeting with her.

“She was awesome. She made everyone feel very comfortable,” Grimes said.  “She said, ‘I understand you weren’t recruited by me, but I’m still going to treat you as if I recruited you. I’m giving everyone a chance.’”

Championship Goals

Even though the setting has changed, Kee’s standdard of success remains the same at UNT as it’s always been. The team had 29 wins last season, but Kee knows there’s more beyond regular season wins.

“It’s not about getting to a conference tournament. It is about winning the conference,” Kee said. “It’s about hanging that championship banner.”

In preparation for the season, Kee speeds up practices so when the team plays in a real game, the game feels slower to them. So far, the players are enjoying Kee’s new style.

“It’s actually fun to be at practice,” senior pitcher Ashley Kirk said. “It’s more fast paced and working on everything flowing together instead of individual little pieces.”

Villarreal said Kee’s attitude reminded him of football head coach Dan McCarney.

“Since she has gotten here, if you would talk to players, they would tell you that she is a person that builds great relationships,” Villarreal said. “She works you very hard. Her expectation is to win championships and she does it. [She] is not going to allow players to take the easy way out.”

The season begins at 9 a.m. Feb. 7 in Athens, Ga., against James Madison University.

Feature photo: Softball head coach Tracey Kee talks to the team during the practice on Wednesday afternoon. Their next game is Feb. 14 against James Madison University. Photo by Zixian Chen / Senior Staff Photographer

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