Back then, the Bulls wore silk, knee-length athletic shorts paired with matching silk jerseys — adorned with an antique USF logo across the front — and played in an outdated field lined with metal bleachers.
A lot has changed since former player Monica “Big Mo” Triner last threw a pitch for USF, but her devotion to the program has never faded.
Now an assistant coach for USF softball and a USF Hall of Fame inductee, Triner has come full circle. She returned to the city she grew up in and the program she helped build.
Upon graduating with a degree in criminology in 1999, Triner owned 21 school records with a 92-33 record and a 0.95 career ERA. She etched her name in USF’s history with one of the most dominating careers the school has ever seen.
“I loved playing and I loved competing,” Triner said. “I loved the challenge of the fact that I was on the mound and they had to try and get a hit off me. My thing was, when you hit, hit it as hard as you can and when you pitch, throw it as hard as you possibly can. That was my mentality.”
Triner finished her career with 109 complete games and 37 shutouts, but did just as much damage at the plate as she did in the circle.
“She was a phenomenal athlete,” said USF coach Ken Eriksen, who coached her in the late ‘90s. “We haven’t had someone like that who was that dominant at all the positions and be able to control a ball game. She’d pitch a 1-0 shutout and hit the home run, that’s how good she was.”
With a .390 career batting average, Triner led USF in that category each of her final three seasons and hit 23 home runs and 158 RBIs over her career.
But the USF legend didn’t grow up throwing softballs. Instead, Triner dominated the bowling lanes from ages 9 to 11 before stumbling across softball in her PE class.
“I went home and told my parents I didn’t want to bowl anymore and I wanted to play softball,” Triner said. “They looked at me like I was crazy because I was a pretty good bowler. I went out in the backyard and my dad had this old raggedy glove and I said, ‘OK, I’m going to go try out.’ I did and that was it. I’ve been doing it the rest of my life.”
Times have changed and so has the importance of stats in the sport. In the age of technology, stats and records are plastered across social media. When Triner played, the game was simple — just play.
“I just loved playing the game. Back then we didn’t have records and everything on computers so it was easy to not know anything,” Triner said. “There also wasn’t much publicity on the Internet like today, so it was easy to just play and not get caught up in that stuff.”
After leaving USF, Triner was drafted second overall in the 1999 Women’s Professional Softball League. In her rookie season, she led the Tampa Bay FireStix to a league title, before immediately returning to college softball as an assistant coach at Virginia Tech.
During her stint with the Hokies, she came across a familiar foe. Standing across the field in the opposing dugout was Eriksen and the Bulls. In a special moment, Triner walked the lineups to home plate prior to the matchup and caught up with the coach who had taught her everything she knew.
“Those are experiences that you go through,” Triner said. “I learned a lot from coach Eriksen and it was a special moment for me because it was the next step in my career.”
Triner, who has known Eriksen since she was 12, found herself back with her former coach as a volunteer assistant coach with USF for three years before being promoted to her current position in 2006.
“I’m fortunate enough to have met her and watch her grow up and mature into a position of trust and loyalty to not just me, but the school itself,” Eriksen said. “She’s had many opportunities to go elsewhere, but she keeps saying, ‘If you don’t want me here, let me know, but I’m not going anywhere,’ and that’s huge.”
Just like when Triner was playing at USF, the Bulls’ pitching staff has been a strength of the team. USF finished 24th in the nation with a 2.10 staff ERA last season. This was the third consecutive year the Bulls have finished in the top 25.
Triner sees herself as a facilitator of their talent, saying, “These kids come in special and we just need to make sure they continue to be special.”
Senior pitcher Sam Greiner said she sees Triner as the “motherly figure” in the dugout, who is a player’s coach and knows how to relate to the girls and give them the inspiration they need.
“She brings light-heartedness, positivity and motivation,” Greiner said. “She’s our biggest support system. She’s so much more than just a coach. She’s like a mom that we can go to for everything. She’s there to pick us up and make sure we know just how good we are.”
Triner has spent 15 of the past 18 years linked to the green and gold, creating her legacy and helping today’s athletes build their own. Although she feels she possesses all the necessary skills to move on and become a head coach, she is forever tied to USF.
“I’ve thought about it, but it’s one of those things where this is home for me,” Triner said. “We’re building this program and going in the right direction. Sometimes I think, ‘Yeah I want to be head coach,’ but then I realize I have everything I need here. Why would I want to leave?”