Chris Bellotto is now in her 36th season as the only head softball coach Florida Southern has ever had. She’s been at the college in one capacity or another for a total of 40 years, a career that began as a player/coach for the Moccasin club softball team in 1978. She was later hired as head coach when the program was given full intercollegiate status as a slow-pitch team in 1982, and led them through the transition to fast-pitch in 1985.
Entering the 2017 season, Bellotto owns a career record of 1,266-509-1, which includes an 80-34 mark in three slow-pitch seasons from 1982-84. Since then, Bellotto and the Moccasins have gone 1,186-475-1 in fastpitch competition, a win total that puts her among the all-time leaders in every coaching category in the NCAA record book while establishing Florida Southern as one of the country’s premier Division II softball programs. Bellotto was the 14th NCAA softball coach to reach the 1,000-win plateau, is now one of 29 who have accomplished that (eight exclusively in Division II), and one of only 16 who are still active. She begins 2017 in 14th place on the all-divisions fastpitch coaching list, and third in Division II, officially 33 behind retired Bloomsburg coach Jan Hutchinson and 27 behind current Wayne State coach Gary Bryce. Bellotto’s .714 career winning percentage also ranks 17th in Division II history.
Those are just some of the many accomplishments that earned Bellotto the highest individual honor a college softball coach can achieve when she was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame on December 10, 2010. She is one of only 12 coaches who have spent their entire career at the D-II level to earn induction.
During her 35-year tenure, the Moccasins have had just four losing seasons, while winning 30 or more games 24 times and at least 40 on 17 occasions. Three times they’ve won at least 50, and have averaged nearly 40 wins per year since 1987. They set a school record with 55 wins in both 2004 and 2006.
With Bellotto guiding the team since its inception, Florida Southern has won more conference titles than any other Division II program, and the Moccasins have made 20 trips to the NCAA Tournament. The Mocs have won more postseason games than all but two other current D-II schools (Bloomsburg and Humboldt State), and more regional titles than all but one (Bloomsburg). During her time at Florida Southern, Bellotto and the Moccasins have played in three national championship games, most recently in 2004, and are one of only two schools at any level to play in a national title game in each of the first three decades the NCAA held a softball championship.
Overall, Bellotto has won 24 conference titles (combining slow-pitch and fast-pitch), eight regional titles and one National Championship. That national title came in 1993 when Florida Southern went 45-11, came out of the loser’s bracket with back-to-back shutouts after dropping its first game at the National Tournament, and closed things out with an 11-5 victory over Augustana (SD) that gave the school its first national championship in women’s athletics. Those 11 runs are still a Division II championship game record.
Florida Southern’s 20 NCAA tournament appearances under Bellotto rank seventh on the list of Division II softball programs, and with over 100 NCAA postseason games to her credit, Bellotto has also led the Mocs to 64 playoff wins, a number surpassed by only former Bloomsburg coach Jan Hutchinson with 84. In their 20 trips to the NCAA playoffs, the Mocs have advanced at least as far as the region final 15 times, and only once have they been eliminated in two games.
Florida Southern’s most recent trip to the NCAA postseason came in 2012, when Bellotto led the Moccasins through a late-season run that saw them jump three teams in the regional rankings over the last two weeks of the regular season and take two-of-three from 14th-ranked Rollins to earn the #6 seed in the South Region Tournament. Once there, the Mocs opened the tournament with a 1-0 win over 13th-ranked and 3rd-seeded Barry before posting two wins over West Alabama to earn their first trip to the Super Regionals since the NCAA adopted that format in 2009. That sent the Mocs to Valdosta where they squared off against top-ranked Valdosta State for the South Region title. Although Florida Southern's season ended there, even in defeat the Mocs showed they were still one of the best teams in the country as they pushed the eventual national champions to the limit before falling 2-1 in 16 innings and 2-0.
Bellotto’s coaching career began in 1979, when Florida Southern began softball as a club sport. That year, while still a student at the college, she led the Mocs to fifth place in the state tournament. In 1980, as a college senior, Bellotto’s team went 15-10, and her 1981 squad was 22-9 while competing with no scholarships against schools that offered as many as 15.
One year later, Florida Southern became a full-fledged intercollegiate program and Bellotto was the obvious choice as the first head coach. She guided the Moccasins to a 22-12 overall record and a perfect 16-0 mark in the Sunshine State Conference, which was sponsoring softball for the first time. Her first win came on March 17, 1982, when the Mocs defeated Saint Leo at Barnett Field, 11-4. The Mocs won the SSC title again in 1983 and ‘84, going 16-0 in the conference during both of those seasons too before the SSC moved to fast-pitch competition in 1985, making Florida Southern eligible for the NCAA Tournament.
After two more conference titles in 1985 and ‘86, Bellotto took the Moccasins to the next level in 1987, as Florida Southern earned its first NCAA Tournament bid in softball. The Mocs won a then school-record 49 games that year, went 24-0 in conference play, and in only their third season of fast-pitch softball, swept through the regional tournament without allowing a run. They added two more shutouts in the Division II National Tournament before eventually finishing second to Cal State-Northridge.
Bellotto’s success continued throughout the remainder of the ‘80’s and into the ‘90’s as Florida Southern would go on to win 16 straight Sunshine State Conference fast-pitch titles from 1985-2000, and earn 14 consecutive NCAA bids from 1987-2000. Combined with their three slow-pitch titles, Florida Southern’s 19 consecutive conference championships are a feat unmatched anywhere in Division II softball. At one point, from the middle of the 1985 season through the end of 1989, the Mocs won 95 consecutive conference games, including 62 in shutout fashion. That 95-game winning streak is the longest for any team in any conference sport since the SSC was founded in 1975.
Of course the highlight of the 1990’s was the 1993 national championship. During that historic season, Bellotto took a team that had lost four position starters and its #1 pitcher from the previous year, replaced them with four freshmen and a sophomore with only 10.0 career innings, and watched them go 45-11 overall and 23-1 in the SSC. Of those five new starters in 1993, four eventually became All-Americans, and 14 years later, three of them were named to the SSC Silver Anniversary Softball Team.
The Mocs won 21 of their last 22 regular season games that year before heading to Joplin, Missouri where they dug their way out of the loser’s bracket by winning three games on the final day of the regional tournament. From there, the Mocs went to Shawnee, Kansas for the national tournament where they again fell into the loser’s bracket by losing their second game, but again climbed out of the hole with three straight wins. Two of those wins came on the final day of the tournament when they defeated Augustana (SD) 1-0, and 11-5 to claim the 1993 Division II national title.
By the end of the 1990’s, Bellotto had helped Florida Southern win every conference title in the decade, as well as three regional titles; and when the new millennium began, the championships continued. From 2000-09, the Moccasins won six more SSC titles, including four in a row from 2004-07, a 4-year stretch that saw Florida Southern go 200-42. During that time, the Moccasins also won the South Region Tournament three times, and went 22-10 in NCAA postseason play.
The Mocs finished fourth in the national tournament in 2007, third in 2006, and were national runners-up in 2004, a year in which they had six freshmen in the starting lineup and only two seniors on the roster, but went 55-8. Those 55 wins were a new school record, and were also the most ever by a Sunshine State Conference school. Breaking that down further, the Mocs won 11 games over nationally ranked teams during the regular season that year, and all seven of their postseason wins came against top-25 teams. That included a 2-0 win over #1 Kennesaw State in their first game at the national finals.
The 2006 team was among the best ever coached by Bellotto, as the Moccasins tied their 2-year old school record by again going 55-8, set a new school record with 49 regular season wins, captured their 22nd conference title, and won the South Region title en route to their third-place finish at the national tournament. The Mocs spent most of the season ranked in the NFCA top five, opened the year with 18 straight wins, and set school records for home runs and shutouts. The season culminated with a record-setting 13-2 win over Alabama-Huntsville in the South Region Championship Game, earning the Moccasins their seventh regional title and a seventh trip to the NCAA Division II National Tournament. The Mocs went 2-2 in Salem, Virginia that year to finish third overall, giving them two third-place finishes, two runner-up finishes and one national championship under Bellotto.
In 2007, Bellotto guided Florida Southern to its fourth straight SSC title and a fourth-place finish at the national tournament in Akron, Ohio. That season was significant for another reason too, as Bellotto earned her 1,000th career win on March 16 when the Moccasins defeated Bryant University, 2-0. Two years later, on March 27, 2009, she picked up her 1,000th fast-pitch victory when the Mocs won at Eckerd, 9-1. That made her the 14th coach in NCAA history to reach that milestone, and just the fifth in Division II.
Following their fourth-place finish at the 2007 national tournament, Bellotto had to replace seven senior starters, three of them All-Americans, and all seven were career record holders of one type or another. Even with that daunting task, Bellotto still had the Mocs in contention in 2008, as Florida Southern was among the top teams in the South Region all year with a 29-14 record. Along the way, they earned victories over seven teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament, including two regional champions and two regional runners-up.
Not surprisingly, Florida Southern followed that year with yet another conference championship in 2009, breaking the team home run record for the second time in four years, while the pitching staff again finished among the top 20 in the country in ERA. Their 43-15 record included an 18-6 mark in SSC play, and their improvement from sixth place to first place was the greatest one-year turn-around in league history. That earned Bellotto SSC Coach-of-the-Year honors for the 15th time in her career, which are by far the most any softball coach has ever won in the league. Only current Tampa volleyball coach Chris Catanach has won as many coaching awards in any sport sponsored by the SSC with 18.
As a further highlight to her success, Bellotto was named the head coach on the SSC Silver Anniversary Team in 2007, and was joined on that squad by 14 of her former players, the most of any team in the league. She’s compiled a 613-211-1 record in conference play for a .744 winning percentage, and the Moccasins have had seven perfect seasons in SSC play, including 24-0 records in 1987 and 1989. At the regional level, Bellotto (or her staff) has been named the Coach-of-the-Year 10 times, and twice she’s been selected as the NFCA Division II National Coach-of-the-Year. She first won that award in 1989, when the Moccasins went 46-8 and finished third in the nation. The second time came following their national championship in 1993.
Bellotto has had 45 All-Americans (26 different players), including 24 first-team selections. Among them are four-time All-Americans Kellie Robinson and Shelly Davis, and three-time winner Megan Brown. Robinson, Davis and Brown are all members of the SSC Hall of Fame, as are Dori Stankewitz, Traci Wood, Julianne Coleman, Wanda Graham and Sarah Kohlbrenner. The addition of Kohlbrenner in 2016 gives Florida Southern and Bellotto eight of the 17 softball players who are members of the SSC Hall of Fame. Bellotto has also had 21 Academic All-Americans, 91 NFCA All-South Region selections, and six SSC Female Athletes-of-the-Year for all sports.
With her induction into the NFCA Hall of Fame in 2010, Bellotto has now earned similar honors in four different organizations. Her first was the Sunshine State Conference Hall of Fame in February of 2000, followed two years later by her selection as a charter member to the Florida Southern College Athletic Hall of Fame. In June of 2005, she was inducted into the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame. Bellotto was also honored with the “Women in Sports” Achievement Award presented by Saint Leo University in February of 2001.
A lifelong Lakeland resident, Bellotto graduated from Lakeland High School in 1974, earned her A.A. degree from Polk Community College in 1977, and graduated from Florida Southern College with her bachelor’s degree in 1980. She received her master’s degree from the University of South Florida in 1984. In addition to her role as head softball coach at Florida Southern, she was selected as one of the authors in the 2014 edition of The Softball Coaching Bible, has served two terms on the NCAA Division II South Region selection committee, and is also a faculty member in the school’s Physical Education Department.
Updated for the 2017 season