The University of Tampa has several coaches who have stood the test of time. Softball coach Leslie Kanter is no exception.
Kanter has been the head coach of the UT softball team since 1995. She boasts a record of 371-337 at the helm, but it wasn’t always easy.
Kanter played collegiate softball at the University of South Florida (USF). As the starting shortstop, she helped USF capture two national titles. In 2005 she was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. This was followed by an induction into softball’s highest honor, the USSSA Softball Hall of Fame, in 2007.
“That was quite a big honor,” Kanter said of her USSSA induction.
Kanter earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s in curriculum and instruction from USF.
She took up high school coaching after graduation, but it didn’t take her long to reach the collegiate level.
Kanter arrived at UT in 1990 as an assistant to Head Coach Michelle Lamont. During Kanter’s time as an assistant coach, UT picked up a school record of 28 victories, a mark that has since been broken.
Her tenure was part of a five-year streak of consecutive winning seasons and included the program’s first national ranking in 1992.
“Michelle was a great coach and a good role model,” Kanter said of her predecessor. “I learned so much from her.”
Kanter took over as UT’s head softball coach in 1995. Her team had a rough start, finishing 12-38 in 1995 and 5-31 in 1996.
“We didn’t have the scholarship money other schools had,” Kanter said of her first two seasons. “We had to field a team of mostly walk-ons, and then little by little we got more money.”
Kanter produced her first winning season in 1998 with a 22-20 record, and the success began to show. In 2001, the Spartans won the Sunshine State Conference Championship (SSC) for the first time with a 33-16 record.
In addition to her SSC title, Kanter has coached championship teams elsewhere. In 2005, she led the United States to the gold medal in the Maccabia Games in Israel. Kanter saw it not only as a personal accomplishment, but a culture shock.
“To have a soldier on our bus taking us to the games while holding a shotgun is not normal for us,” Kanter said. “However, it is [normal] to the Israelis. It was a different life for us, but it was a beautiful land with a lot of history behind it.”
Back stateside, Kanter believes her team is capable of winning the SSC title again.
“Without injuries this season, I think we would have been there,” Kanter said.
The team is currently 18-16 with a 9-9 SSC record. They looked to compete with Rollins for the title before losing six games in a row.
Win or lose, though, Kanter’s players are grateful for their experiences with the team.
“After meeting and talking to Kanter, I just knew Tampa was going to fit my kind of softball,” said senior Jessica Tejas, a four-year starter under Kanter. “There were times where I questioned my spot, but she always saw something in me.”
Likewise, sophomore Brittany Hipple is content with having Kanter as her coach.
“I’m so happy I transferred to UT,” said Hipple, who played her freshman season at the University of Central Florida and played for Kanter’s sister at Venice High School in South Florida. “It is by far the best decision I have made.”
In turn, Kanter is appreciative of her experiences with the players.
“Having a group of girls who you really enjoy and really respect, and winning with that group is the most fun part of my job,” Kanter said.