Kathy Slaten apparently has become too good for her own good.
So for the good of her health and well-being, she says, she will not return for her senior season of softball--or education--at Cal State Northridge.
"I'm not playing next year," the 21-year-old junior said. "I don't enjoy (softball) anymore, it's not fun. There's too much pressure. Teams are not so much out to beat Northridge as they are out to beat me."
Slaten, a two-time Division II All-America pitcher, has been the driving force behind CSUN's two straight Division II softball titles. But she says the sport has become more than just a game. It has grown into an uncontrollable monster that gnaws at the pit of her stomach every time she begins her ballet-like windup.
Her obsessive desire to win has given her an ulcer, she says, while also planting the seed for a bad attitude toward her teammates.
Said Slaten: "I've always been afraid of losing. Every time I lose I feel bad. Is there someone who can tell me how a person handles losing? Just thinking about losing burns my stomach out."
Losing isn't the only thing that bothers the two-time California Collegiate Athletic Assn. softball Most Valuable Player.
"I'm more worried if we're going to be national champion again," she said. "It's such a bad feeling. A lot of girls on the team didn't come from winning programs. But I've been with winning teams all my life." Slaten was a two-time Southern Section Most Valuable Player at La Reina High in Thousand Oaks.
Gary Torgeson, CSUN's softball coach, isn't surprised by Slaten's decision.
"I think maybe she's a little burned out. I think she puts too much pressure on herself. I think she tries to do it all herself," Torgeson said.
Torgeson, 162-50-5 in his four years as the Matador softball coach, rates Slaten the third-best pitcher in the nation. He puts only UCLA's Tracy Compton and Debbie Doom ahead of her.
The head coach thought enough of his star pitcher, however, to offer her a full scholarship for her senior season, according to Slaten. She has been receiving a partial scholarship the last three years.
Initially, Slaten said she was flattered by Torgeson's offer, but then said she realized it was made just to keep her on the team. Money is not her reason for leaving the team, she said.
In two-plus seasons Slaten is 86-21 with 15 no-hitters and an earned run average of 0.26. She has given up just 30 earned runs in 851 innings and has not allowed an earned run in 95 innings of postseason play.
For the 42-11 Matadors this season, Slaten is 26-5 with 17 shutouts, and two no-hitters in 230 innings. Yet she claims she is unhappy--with the season and with the game.
"I always want to be the best," she said. "I know I could be better this year. But right now I'm burned out. I've been playing softball for 12 years.
Has the challenge faded?
"That might have something to do with it," she admitted. "That might have everything to do with it."
Slaten, 5-5 and 140 pounds, called this season the "worst" of her three-year CSUN career.
"I was better, a lot better in my freshman and sophomore years," she said. "It could be that I think I have nothing to prove. It doesn't mean I'm giving up. But I have nothing this year. I haven't broken any records, haven't done anything."
Slaten cites the absence of former pitching coach Armando Madrid, and an injury to the index finger of her pitching hand as possible reasons for her "slump" this season.
Madrid, 39, reportedly left the team earlier this year because of philosophical differences with CSUN assistant softball coach Debbie Ching. He does, however, attend some CSUN games and has given informal instruction to the pitchers.
The injury has cost her some feeling in her right hand. She plans to see an acupuncturist for treatment soon.
"Sometimes when I pitch I can't feel my hand, there's nothing there," Slaten said.
But the real problem, the lack of feeling for softball in her heart, cannot be treated as easily.
Slaten says she hasn't been able to keep food down for more than a week. She has been bothered recently by opposing teams who have been taunting her--trying to throw her timing off by calling her names.
"Every once in a while, I debate, 'Should I come back or should I leave?' I know I'll miss it. If no one knew who we were, if the pressure wasn't always there, then I'd be back in a flash," she said. "If people didn't want to beat us so bad . . . some people thrive on that. But after three years, I don't thrive on that anymore."
The hazel-eyed brunette, whose sister, Karen, pitches for Cal State Bakersfield, said her desire to win has sometimes caused her to question the play of her teammates. She says she cannot live with that attitude any longer.
"I don't like to have a bad attitude about my team. I don't want it to be like this again, I don't want this bad attitude showing up again," she said.
After this season, she will quit school and plans to marry her long-time boyfriend, Aaron Ayala, a brother of former CSUN basketball player Dianna Ayala.
"I had two goals," she said. "I wanted to get a college (softball) scholarship and I wanted to marry somebody rich. He's not rich, but he's medium."
She majored in recreation but said she someday would like to work with children.
Said Slaten: "I don't want people to think all I did was play softball. It is not my whole life. As much as I hate the thought of not playing, I've got to move on."
1985 figures through April 16 Kathy Slaten Year by Year
Year W-L IP GS CG SHO SO ERA 1982 21-9 278 29 24 15 * 311 0.18 1984 39-7 343 44 44 32 478 0.37 1985 25-5 195 29 23 17 276 0.18 Totals 85-21 816 102 91 64 1,065 0.26
* Includes 2 no-hitters Includes 12 no-hitters Through April 14 Includes 2 no-hitters