Softball looks forward to unprecedented 2021 season

Head Coach Bruce Lenington returns for his second season to guide the Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) softball team for its 12th year. The Saints feature four new transfers, six freshmen and 17 returners.

Beginning the season

The Saints will host a two-day tournament with junior colleges Jan. 29-30 before opening the regular season with the OLLU Nationwide Classic from Feb. 5-7 that features Bellevue University (BU) (1-1), Ottawa University-Arizona (OUAZ) and RRAC rival University of Houston-Victoria (UHV) (12-26). OLLU will play OUAZ twice and BU three times. (Numbers after school indicate all-time records).

Lenington said, “We are excited to kick off our season with a home tournament that draws in some teams from out of state.”

The Saints play their first road games against Texas Lutheran University (TLU) (0-2) and LeTourneau University on Feb. 13-14 following the OLLU Nationwide Classic. The contests will be held on the campus of TLU in Seguin, Texas. OLLU will then play eight home games and seven away games before starting conference play. The opponents include the University of St. Thomas-Houston, Southwestern University (7-14), UT-Tyler (0-2), Trinity University (10-8), Langston University (31-7) and Schreiner University (12-2).

Conference opponents

The Saints open the RRAC schedule when they host Texas A&M University-Texarkana (3-3) March 20-21. They welcome the University of the Southwest (30-13) on March 27-28 and Jarvis Christian College (12-3) from April 2-3.

OLLU heads to Alexandria, La., for its first road conference games to face LSU-Alexandria (2-21) on April 9-10. The Saints return to San Antonio and head south for an away doubleheader and a home doubleheader series against RRAC newcomers Texas A&M University-San Antonio April 17-18. They close the season against UHV (12-26) at home from April 23-24.

Experienced pitchers

Senior Ciera Martinez (SR/San Antonio, Texas), junior Ariel Montgomery (JR/Castroville, Texas) and sophomores Kelly Anne Salinas (SO/Laredo, Texas), Alexis Valdez (SO/Seguin, Texas) and Felicity Villanueva (SO/El Paso, Texas) return as top pitchers for the Saints. Transfers Angela Ramirez (JR/Converse, Texas) from Trinity Valley Community College and Aileen Campos (SO/Robstown, Texas) from Coastal Bend add depth to the experienced rotation.

Martinez was named RRAC Pitcher of the Week for March 2-8 last season and pitched a perfect game against Mid-America Christian University with 18 strikeouts. Montgomery pitched in three games and was named the RRAC Player of the Week for Feb. 24-March 1. Salinas appeared in six contests and struck out 18 batters.

Salinas put away 18 hitters last year and Valdez pitched a total of four innings. Villanueva pitched just over 19 innings and finished with a 2.90 ERA. She also was named RRAC Pitcher of the Week spanning from Feb. 10-16.

Returners

The senior class includes Kennah Kennedy (SR/Frost, Texas), Martinez, Clarissa Santos (SR/San Antonio, Texas) and Jalin Oliva-St. Romain (SR/Highlands, Texas). Santos was hit by a pitch 15 times last season, which fell one short of the NAIA record. Kennedy received Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete honors and held the single-season stolen base record for the Saints with 15 in 2019.

The other returners include sophomores  Katelyn Esparza (SO/San Antonio, Texas), Ysa Gonzales (SO/San Marcos, Kaylie Norris (SO/Schertz, Texas) and Deandra Vera (SO/Uvalde, Texas), Texas). The junior class features Kayla Dreese (JR/San Antonio, Texas), Jennifer Estrada (JR/El Paso, Texas), Joanna Gonzalez (JR/San Benito, Texas), Madison Nunn (JR/Cibolo, Texas) and Kaitlyn Salazar (JR/San Antonio, Texas). Salazar was named the RRAC Etier Character Athlete of the Year and received RRAC Athlete of the Week honors. Last season the Saints featured 11 RRAC Scholar-Athletes.

“To develop a championship culture, you need to bring in talented athletes but also have to get development out of the returners,” Lenington commented.

Newcomers

The Saints add six freshmen for the 2020-2021 season. Kaylen Estrada (FR/Waco, Texas), Marissa Bradley (FR/Seguin, Texas), Abigail Elizondo (FR/San Antonio, Texas), Kaili Luna (FR/Converse, Texas) and Eneli Garza (FR/La Feria, Texas) are Texas natives. Devan Miller (FR/Marion, Ohio) joins the team from Marion, Ohio, after attending River Valley High School. Alexia Camacho (SO/San Antonio, Texas), Julissa Moreno (SO/Austin, Texas), Campos and Ramirez round out the transfer class.

The new class boasts two catchers, two infielders, an outfielder and a utility player. Lenington said, “This is my first recruiting class. We brought in nine total players and every one of them gives us stability, strength and depth in various positions.”

Managing COVID-19 hurdles

The Saints were fortunate to navigate and complete an entire fall practice schedule, including scrimmages against several junior and community colleges.

“We are appreciative of the university for allowing us a format to continue to run our programs while we are waiting for vaccines and therapeutics,” Lenington said. OLLU was 11-14 overall and 3-0 in RRAC play last year before the season was cut short due to COVID-19.

Renovations

Lenington implemented multiple renovations to the softball field during the offseason and continues to make improvements until the first scheduled game on Jan. 29. The dugouts were expanded, and the benches were customized. He also added the netting of the backstop and enhanced the warning track. Current plans are to add a shaded structure that stretches the length of both dugouts and will cover fans from the sun.

Attendance policy

At this time, the university has mandated that no spectators be allowed to attend athletic events at OLLU as a commitment to keeping our community safe from COVID-19. If this mandate changes, a notification will be sent via the OLLU website at http://www.ollusaintsathletics.com. With the reality that all intercollegiate teams will be playing during the spring, the university will announce which teams will be live-streamed through the OLLU Saints Network. However, the softball team will live-stream the games that the university cannot via the OLLU Softball Facebook page.

Hear from Head Coach Bruce Lenington here: