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Les Hearn of West Valley College (CA) avoids "burnout".

By the time you read this, Les Hearn will probably have coached his one-thousandth softball game at West Valley College. Hearn, 716-268 (including 22-2 this year) as of March 24, is in his 25th season as the head softball coach at the Saratoga, California, junior college, and has guided this year's team to the number one ranking among California two-year schools, according to the March 16 poll conducted by the California Community College Fastpitch Coaches Association.

Despite his years in the game, the man who has posted winning records in 23 of his 24 seasons at West Valley shows no signs of burnout, and neither do his players, due in part, he says, to his somewhat unconventional but strongly-held attitude toward extensive, intense fall practice. He doesnít believe in it.

"We have one two-hour softball class meeting a week in the fall," Hearn says."And I donít even require that they all be there. We may play a practice game and I'll bat 13 people in the order and I sit in the stands and watch. I tell them that there's no pressure in the fall, just have fun."

This seemingly casual attitude was anything but casually arrived at, says Hearn.

"First, we have to get these kids educated.î he says. ìIf we play all year, they canít go to class. And, if weíre together, in that intense atmosphere, all year around , I think they get burned out."

As it is, Hearn says, by the time spring practice begins in mid-January, his players are raring to get started.

"I think theyíre a little hungrier by that time," he says. "And theyíre more mentally into it."

Even in the spring, Hearn doesnít believe in overdoing it.

"We have two-hour practices and that's it," he says. "I tell them that if any of them schedule an appointment 15 minutes after practice, theyíll be able to keep it."

As a result, Hearn says, his teams nearly always play their best softball of the year in the postseason, as evidenced by West Valley's presence in 10 of the last 13 California JC Final Eight tournaments.

If this year's team hasn't yet peaked, itís scary to imagine how good it might be when it does. The Vikings solidified their number-one regional ranking with a six-win, no-loss sweep of the Fresno City College Tournament in late March, a sweep that included wins over Merced and Shasta, ranked second and fourth respectively behind West Valley in the Northern Calfornia Region, and Cypress, the top-ranked team in the Southern California Region. The 2-0 win over Cypress came in the tournament championship game and was the third victory of the tourney for pitcher Maggie Del Rio, who earned Most Valuable Pitcher honors and ran her seasonís record to 13-1.

Outfielder Teresa Mendez (Most Valuable Offensive Player) and shortstop Allison Andrade (Tourney MVP) were also honored. Freshman pitcher Shelly Bruno, though not a recipient of any individual awards, was was 3-0 in tourney play, posting shutouts over Shasta, Taft and Palomar.

Mendez, who hit her team-leading fourth and fifth home runs of the season in a 14-5 win over Hartnell Community College after the Fresno Tourney, "Isnít really a power hitter," Hearn says. "But she's got a very nice swing."

Mendez hits well in close games, too. Her solo homer on the game's second pitch was the only run scored in West Valley's 1-0 win over Shasta in the Fresno tourney opener.

Andrade, who was batting over .500 after 24 games and leading the team in stolen bases and bases on balls, "is our best player," says Hearn, who adds that Andrade agreed to attend the University of Arizona during the early signing period last fall. "She'll be a good player for Arizona." he says.