BELLEVILLE — It's a rebuilding project that Carol Belleville embraces.
Belleville has taken over the coaching duties for the Althoff Crusaders softball team.
"I definitely see this as a program that needs to be built, and Lord willing and the creek don't rise, I don't see myself walking out in a year for any reason that I know of," Belleville said. "You do it for the kids, that's why we coach."
Belleville has coached for about 15 years at Grant Junior High School in Belleville. She's also coached several Khoury League and select teams.
Belleville had two daughters, Carrie and Katie, who played softball for Belleville East.
Belleville graduated from East in 1977. She never played softball in high school because the sport wasn't offered yet, but she ended up playing at Belleville Area College. She was a pitcher, a catcher and a third baseman.
Belleville said she got the call about coaching the Crusaders in early January after a couple of other potential replacements for Mike Dori, who stepped down as coach to become the school's athletic director, fell through.
Belleville said the timing of the call was right. She'd just learned that she wouldn't be coaching boys volleyball at Grant because the sport had been dropped for this season.
"The irony in it was just hilarious," Belleville said. "I was thinking, 'I don't have anything to coach. Both of my girls are in college. I don't have any softball fields to go to."'
Belleville's assistant coach is Brian Delp, a first-year math teacher at Althoff.
The Crusaders, once one of the premier softball programs in the metro-east, have fallen on hard times. They've struggled in recent years with just getting enough players to field a team.
Belleville said she was forced to recruit four or five players who had never played softball before just to fill out her roster.
"We went out and got five more girls because we were going in with nine or 10, and I told them, 'I'm not going to quit on you, but you can't go into a high school program of this caliber with nine or 10 girls,"' Belleville said. "I have a tennis player out, a dancer out. I have four or five girls who have never played before that come out there and they pay attention. They want to learn. They're trying to take it all in."
The Crusaders opened the 2014 season with a 10-0 loss to Mascoutah on Tuesday.
Freshman Kennedy Sims was on the mound for the Crusaders in their opener.
"She is going to be very good," Belleville said of Sims. "She throws well, she definitely holds her own She's a great hitter. She's a good kid. When you have a decent pitcher and a decent catcher, it definitely can help you through a game or two."
The Crusaders bring back a few key players in Tory Lanaghan at catcher, Katie Nagel at first base and Carly Bowman in center field.
"I have a catcher who is very solid, a center fielder who is very solid and a first baseman who is very solid," Belleville said.
Sophomore Lindsey Harris and Katie Donaho fill out the pitching staff. Donaho also could play at third base or in the outfield.
Kristin Speichinger will handle the shortstop duties, while Sandy Amorado, who was used mostly as a pinch runner last year, will patrol left field.
Belleville said second base, third base and right field still are up in the air.
Belleville's main goal this season has nothing to do with wins or losses. She wants to restore faith in the softball program among the prospective players at the school.
"I kind of hope that these girls have a good time," Belleville said. "I have a decent young pool, and hopefully they will be able to say, 'Hey, the program is getting better. We have some people who care about us, who want to help us. I hope it will inspire people to come back out."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.