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Monday, January 31, 2011 - 9:03pm
As February quickly approaches, the excitement of a new season is growing for the women of the New Mexico State softball team. This season is promising to be a great one for the returning seniors on this year's team.
The seven student-athletes returning to play their final season of NM State softball have a particularly strong bond, not only as teammates for the past three seasons, but also because they helped turn the softball team around with record-breaking performances. As with any other athletic team at NM State, the focus of these teammates is on winning a Western Athletic Conference Championship, and taking the team into post-season play.
What one might not expect when meeting these seven athletes is how humble they are, and how supportive they are of their fellow teammates. They each had the usual things to say about hard work and a positive mindset, but they also spoke fondly of their fellow seniors and their journey together. Head coach Kathy Rodolph also spoke very highly of them.
"This group of seven seniors is one of the most talented groups that I've coached over the last 25 years," Rodolph said. "Strength comes in numbers, and anything that they set their minds to, they definitely have the ability to accomplish."
There is indeed strength in numbers. These seven athletes have been superb in their hitting game. In 2009 they broke more records than any other team in program history, and they were the batting average national champions.
If you ask them about breaking their records, however, that humble attitude appears, and they seem almost unaware of any records. It is evident that each of these seniors just wants to play some softball and give it everything they've got.
Clean-up hitter Hoku Nohara, of Waimanalo, Hawai'i, is a dominant personality on the NM State softball team, but she has a straightforward tone. "I don't even know what records I have," Nohara said. "I'm just focused on working hard and doing the best I can do."
Kylie Randall, of Chula Vista, Calif., is the steals leader on the Aggies softball team, and she discussed working with a track coach to build an explosive first step for her steals. Randall also mentioned that she and teammate Alex Villalobos are both from the San Diego area.
"We played 'travel ball' together when we were younger," Randall said.
Pitcher Alex Villalobos is a red shirt senior who transferred to NM State from Oklahoma State. She said she liked coming here, and getting to know her teammates.
"It's more team-oriented. I consider everyone on the team my family," Villalobos said. She has also been able to improve the mechanics of her pitching during her time as an Aggie.
Communication and hard work are important components for Kandis Jones of La Mirada, Calif., but so is keeping up her grade point average. "School is very important to me. I really want to become a nurse," Jones said.
No doubt she will achieve her goals. Jones was named to the 2009 ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District Team.
Ashley Maroda, of San Bernardino, Calif., has a very positive mindset about the upcoming season, but she keeps it simple. "Whatever happens happens. It's my last season, so I'm trying to make the best of it," Maroda said. When asked if she is competitive with other teammates, she laughed shyly and said that she just wants to do her part to make the team better.
Shoulder injuries and multiple surgeries have been a setback, but have not stopped Tiffany Autry, of Beaumont, Texas. Autry has had a combined three surgeries on both shoulders; the most recent was last July.
"I just try to keep a positive attitude and do what I can to help the team," Autry said of her recovery. "I never give up."
For Vanessa Valles, being the local player feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity. The infielder hails from Berino, N.M., only a few miles from where she is now playing Division I softball with the Aggies.
"It means a lot because my family gets to come and see me play all the time," Valles said. She also has enjoyed the time spent playing with the other seniors on the team. "They push you to work hard every day. And by them pushing you every day, it makes you become a better person, and a better player."
Listening to the seniors of this year's NM State softball team speak, one gets an idea of their closeness as teammates, and their spirit and passion for the game. It is also obvious that the coaches have a lot of fondness for these young ladies as they set out to begin their last season at NM State.
"This is a group that has rewritten the record books offensively," said associate coach Cat Heifner. "To watch their progress and their growth and their maturity over the years has been an amazing journey. The better they get, the harder they work."
The 2011 NM State softball team will definitely be one to watch. These student-athletes have a closeness and mutual respect that one doesn't find in every team. Coach Rodolph laughed when she recalled some of the teammates attempting surfing and canoeing in Hawai'i.
Rodolph spoke about athletes from other teams wanting to join the Aggies because of the camaraderie of her team. "Humility has kept them working hard," Rodolph said. "It is very rewarding to see them come in wide-eyed, and leave so mature."
The Aggie softball season begins Friday, February 11, 2011, with the Hotel Encanto Invitational in Las Cruces.