It's one thing to be a good athlete. It's another to be a good softball player. But put the two together, and you've got a dynamite combination.

For the Metros, a women's fast-pitch softball team in the Guy Mason League, the meshing of these two qualities has served them well the past seven years. Made up mostly of former college athletes, they have achieved consistent success despite playing in the highly competitive Guy Mason League, one of two Amateur Softball Association-sanctioned Class AA major women's leagues in the area.

This year is no exception. The team, sponsored by the Metropolitan Poultry Co., has a 37-11 record and recently won the league title and the Central Atlantic Region tournament, advancing to the ASA national tournament which begins today in Houston.

It's easy to pinpoint one of the reasons for their excellence. Half the team members have been around since 1979 (the last year the Metros went to national tournament) and most of them played softball or other sports together in college, so they know each other's capabilities.

Two players, Tara Heiss and Lisa Schlesinger, were basketball teammates at Maryland in the late 1970s. During the offseason they played on a softball team with other Terrapins in a Prince George's County league.

Friendships made on the basketball court were continued on the softball field.

"A lot of it was because we had friends on the team," said Heiss, a Metros shortstop who also played on U.S. basketball team at the Pan American Games in 1979.

That camaraderie has made things smoother for third-year manager Sue Gorsuch, a former Maryland women's basketball assistant coach who has played on the team for 15 years. "It's easy in some ways. The difficult part is that it's hard to coach friends, especially the older, more experienced people. It's harder to give criticism," she said.

Other reasons are the length and strength of its schedule. Besides the Mason League, the Metros also compete in an East Coast traveling league, playing teams from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. That means approximately 50 games a season. The team's 11 losses have come either in tournaments or on the traveling league circuit.

Gorsuch figured a longer schedule was the best way to improve. "I was amazed at the talent of other teams in the '79 tournament," she said. "We were very naive. After that year we decided to play more games against better competition, and build a schedule competitive enough to play on that level."

One key this season has been the addition of pitcher Maura Ryan, who formerly played high-level softball in upstate New York. Her size (5 feet 10), control and a good fastball have helped Gorsuch establish a consistent two-pitcher rotation with Rita Highbaugh.

"The difference this year is we don't approach certain games with trepidation," Gorsuch said. "Now we look at it as a game that can be won."

Another improved area is the team's hitting, which is .293 overall. Most of the offense comes from Schlesinger, who leads the team with a .410 batting average and a .600 on-base percentage.

Gorsuch attributes the increase in hitting to getting a jump on the weather, practicing indoors in February rather than waiting for warm temperatures.

The Metros handle the inconvenience of constant travel and job commitments with dedication -- and shuffling work schedules to accommodate game dates.

"Usually, if I can get leave I'll take off for games," said center fielder Kathy Payne, a Montgomery County police officer. "It's hard sometimes; I don't have a lot of seniority. I have to take a lot of it."

Highbaugh has missed just one game this year although her job as a lawyer for a marketing/consulting firm requires a lot of traveling. "There have been some times where I played and then caught a plane at National {Airport}," she said. "It makes things interesting."

It's a full-time weekend, but to the players it's still a summer activity, according to Gorsuch. "Everybody's attitude is that I put in this much time, I'm going to play," she said.