Lady Vikings’ seniors facilitated culture change

The preparation for the Pace Lady Vikings’ 2020 softball campaign happened during a period when so many student-athletes work on their craft — the previous summer.

“These girls really spearheaded that summer league team,” Pace coach Boris Vega said. “They got everything together, they set practices up.”

The momentum carried forward into the school year, when the Lady Vikings’ seniors asked Vega if they could hold weightlifting sessions before school in the morning in order to have more time to focus on fundamentals in practice.

Vega welcomed this chance for his team’s upperclassmen to put extra work in and to take on the responsibility of mentoring the younger girls.

Pace had six seniors on this year’s team, and three sets of sisters. Twins Alexis and Cassandra Rodriguez, Lauren Mares, Nikki Ramirez, Yvonne Ramirez and Valerie Vera are set to graduate June 4 at Sams Stadium. The Lady Vikings went 8-6 before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic resulted in a shortened season.

Vera, Pace’s shortstop, said the team’s work ethic helped promote accountability from the top down throughout the season.

“I worked hard because I didn’t want to let the girls down,” Vera said. “Because I knew how hard they were working.”

Pace won its District 32-5A opener 18-1 over Lopez, the final high school game for the team’s seniors.

Alexis played center field, hit .367 and posted an on-base percentage of .537. She had 11 hits and scored 15 runs. Cassandra, the Lady Vikings’ third basemen, hit .250.

In addition to the Rodriguez twins, Pace has two other sets of sisters — junior first Andrea Toledo and sophomore pitcher/infielder Arlette Toledo, and corner outfielders Nikki Ramirez and Yvonne Ramirez.

“It’s been pretty fun, we both kind of get on each other’s nerves,” Cassandra said about the team’s family dynamic. “We both get pretty competitive if we’re on different teams. It’s just fun having a sister there to share that time and experience with.”

Alexis believes having such a close-knit group is a source of motivation for the Lady Vikings.

“It pushes us to be a better person and a better athlete,” Alexis said. “The way I see it, it’s just awesome having a sister there.”

Mares, a pitcher and second baseman, posted a .385 average, a .400 on-base percentage and drove in 16 runs on 15 hits.

“A lot of us started off in our freshman year together,” Mares said. “And that’s where the bonds grew, and that competitiveness also grew along as we came up as seniors. … This year was supposed to be our ‘Oorrah.’”

Yvonne, the Lady Vikings’ left fielder, also expressed disappointment in not being able to make a playoff run, but she reciprocated the appreciation her teammates shared for their chemistry.

“I had a lot of hope for us to make it to the playoffs,” Yvonne said. “I really love these girls. We tell each other everything.”

Nikki, Pace’s right fielder, hit .412 and recorded a .615 on-base percentage.

“I know a lot of girls say that their team is like a family, but we actually were,” Nikki said. “We did everything together. We had spaghetti nights, we told each other everything. … We just felt comfortable around each other. It was a good team, unfortunately, (the pandemic) happened, and we just couldn’t finish the season.”

Going forward, the Toledo sisters figure to be a key part of Pace’s DNA. Andrea notched a .400 batting average and .475 on-base percentage along with 14 hits and 15 RBIs. Arlette hit .400 and posted a .500 on-base percentage.

Other returners who will look to make a big impact in 2021 include junior outfielder Rebeca Garza and sophomore catcher Alexa Bolivar, who recorded a .310 batting average and .444 on-base percentage.

Two freshman infielders have the potential to be four-year lettermen for Vega. Shortstop Felicitas Figueroa hit for a whopping .639 and a .690 on-base percentage, posting an .861 slugging percentage. She led the team in hits, with 23, and RBIs, with 16. She also scored 21 runs and hit one home run.

Kayla Gutierrez hit for a .353 average and also posted a .436 on-base percentage. She added 12 hits and scored 10 runs.

“What we had was something no other team has had,” Nikki said. “Next year they’ll have a new team, and hopefully they’ll be the same as this year’s team. We didn’t really know each other, but then we had summer league and we got along. We got closer that way. Hopefully (next year’s team) will be able to do the same. … We’re going to be there to support them (next year) and hopefully see them make it to the playoffs. Unfortunately we couldn’t, but hopefully they’ll be able to change that.”

Stefan Modrich Total Posts: 158 Stefan Modrich is a 2017 graduate of Arizona State University, where he was the Sports Editor for The State Press, ASU's independent student news publication. He is also a graduate of the University of Zagreb in Croatia, where he completed a foreign language program in 2018. A native of Franklin Park, Illinois, Modrich previously covered high school sports for The Arizona Republic, Chicago Tribune, and Mars Reel Media.