HARLINGEN — Playing varsity softball for San Benito high school is a privilege, and the girls in the program don’t take it lightly.
The Lady Greyhounds were 10-8 heading into the District 32-6A slate and believed they would contend for the district title this year. The young squad, which had only one senior in the starting roster in Prairie View A&M signee Kari Cisneros, gained experience and matured throughout a tough non-district schedule, and it was heading in the right direction before COVID-19 caused the UIL to cancel the season.
“As an athlete, the worst thing you can hear is that your season is going to be canceled because you’re so excited and you work so hard,” pitcher/outfielder Megan Cavazos said. “But it happened, and sometimes you just need to see the positive things.
“At the end of a season, most of us are complaining about our arms and stuff, so with the coronavirus we took time to think about our bodies and how to treat them better,” Cavazos added. “But also, we just want to play. We just want to have fun. And I think since it got taken away, now we know how much the game means to us and how we need to appreciate it more.”
With a renewed fire within, the incoming senior class of Cavazos, outfielder Katelyn Garza, outfielder Robyn Gonzalez, catcher/third baseman Jordan Ramos and pitcher/outfielder Jenessa Silva is ready to lead San Benito next year.
Cavazos, Garza, Ramos and Silva have been on the varsity squad since their freshman year, when they were a part of San Benito’s 2018 Sweet 16 appearance. Gonzalez will be a three-year letterwinner. They’re the first class coach Denise Lira has developed from the start, and the skipper is expecting big things from the bunch.
“We’re going to really put a lot of, not pressure, but responsibility on our seniors coming up,” Lira said. “They all play a different piece of the puzzle. They feed off of each other. They’re great girls, and it’s been awesome seeing them grow over the four years. We’re really excited to see what they do.”
The girls spent their youth league days looking up to the San Benito varsity team, and now having the opportunity to anchor the squad is like a dream come true.
“Since I was little, I always told everybody, ‘I’m going to be a Lady ’Hound.’ That was my No. 1 goal,” Ramos said. “And now being able to represent the program and San Benito as a whole, it’s a big deal. Everywhere you go you have to be on your ‘A’ game. It comes with a lot of responsibility, but also with a lot of fun.”
Already, the Lady Greyhounds are working hard in preparation for next season. Before San Benito CISD postponed its summer strength and conditioning program, Lira had her softball players improving their footwork and doing full-body weight training.
She’s encouraging the girls to do voluntary workouts provided by the coaching staff, and many are playing on travel teams. But they’re not just focusing on physical skills.
“Right now, I’m working on getting stronger for this upcoming season,” Gonzalez said. “I’m also working on my communication skills with some of the girls. I’m talking to the younger players. I’m just trying to make the relationships stronger. Our chemistry between (the seniors) is really strong and I think all of us are able to lend it out to the others, to let them know we’re here for you just like we’re here for each other.”
Team chemistry is something San Benito believes will be a major strength next season as it returns eight starters and 13 total players from this season’s squad. Lira said she caps her roster at 15 or 16 girls, so every day will be a competition, which she thinks is a bonus for the Lady Greyhounds.
Another strength on which San Benito will rely is its pitching staff. Silva tossed 35 1/3 innings with 20 strikeouts in 2020, and Cavazos, who was working through a shoulder injury, was given some service time as well. Incoming sophomores Emily Delgado and Faith Rodriguez round out a staff Lira said will “be the center of the defense.”
Delgado recorded 28 strikeouts in 30 innings and tossed a five-inning no-hitter against San Antonio Southwest Legacy on Feb. 28. She was a force at the plate, too, and hit .431 with 17 RBIs, seven doubles and four home runs. Delgado and Ramos, who also blasted four home runs and recorded 13 RBIs on 16 hits, will be two of the top bats next season.
But Lira stresses to the Lady Greyhounds that success is based on the whole team, not a few individuals. She believes the commitment to softball that girls develop early in San Benito is a tool that has and will continue to keep the program respected.
“Our pipeline in San Benito is so strong. These girls literally eat, sleep and breathe softball,” Lira said. “Even though we do have upperclassmen that we’re going to rely on, we’re still going to need all of our girls. On our team, I really believe every single girl plays a piece in our success.”
Lira preaches “being where your feet are” to remind the girls to do their jobs and stay focused on a task at hand, whether that’s on or off the field.
“With Coach Lira, it’s always school before softball, so you should always focus on your academics,” Garza said. “And she always says, ‘Never walk,’ which means always hustle, do your best and give 100 percent all the time. She really puts that into your brain, to never give anything less than 100 percent.”
That’s a lesson the five seniors have taken to heart as they approach their final go-round in purple and gold. They respect the tradition and pride that comes with being a Lady Greyhounds softball player, and they’re ready to take the reins.
“We were all super close last year, there was no tension or anything. So, going into next season, I know we already have a strong bond,” Silva said. “I’ve always looked up to the seniors … they practically lead the team and you can tell they’re mature, so I’m excited (to be in that role next season).”