(Click here for 10th anniversary features on all of our teams.)
SPECIAL FEATURE (Jan. 31, 2017) – Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) began competing in softball in 2010 and the sport joined the university's slate of teams -- including men's and women's soccer, cross-country, basketball, golf and tennis, and women's volleyball -- as part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC).
|Tiffany Stritz (2010-2011)|
From the start, the softball team became a strong force against competitors, with a roster filled with women who played and excelled at other colleges and other leagues throughout the country. The team, featuring seven freshmen, five sophomores and two juniors, bonded quickly. The hurdles they faced being the first-ever softball team at OLLU were nothing more than challenges for the women.
Inaugural team member Tiffany Stritz (pictured at left), a pitcher from Houston, who transferred as a junior from Texarkana College, said, "Being a part of the team made me feel like we were a family. Especially with my family being out of town, they are who I turned to. I enjoyed every bit of being on the team --both the ups and the downs – it was something I looked forward to every day."
One of the sophomores on the team, Kaitlyn Bourg, echoed Stritz's feelings. "Being a part of the inaugural team was certainly an amazing experience. It was very eye opening to be able to create something from the ground up." Bourg, a catcher, hailed from Napoleonville, La., and transferred to OLLU from Nicholls State.
The two led the Saints, along with inaugural team coach Marie Stone, who spent one season with the Saints. Back then, Stone said, "I don't see experience being an issue with us. A lot of the women have played at the highest levels of competition. Each of them has the potential to have a breakout season."
|Kaitlyn Bourg (2010-2012)|
Stritz and Bourg and the rest of the team spent many hours setting up the newly renovated softball field. Bourg said, "Then we learned to roll with the punches and [help] build the program that we have now. That was fantastic. There were some amazing experiences – my favorite memory that year was being stuck on the bus with my favorites for so many hours."
The Saints had an amazing first season, finishing up at 30-16 overall and 22-6 in conference. They went 10-2 to begin the season, winning seven games in a row, including one conference game against Langston University where they won 24-0. They qualified for the conference tournament, where they finished the season as semifinalists.
At the conclusion of the first year, Saints players earned several awards including National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-Region Team honors for Corina Noel and Dawn Villegas, All-Conference Team honors for Stritz, Villegas and Noel, Conference Coach of the Year for Stone, Conference Player of the Year for Villegas, Conference Newcomer of the Year for Noel and Conference Defensive Player of the Year for Ashley Elizalde.
|Head Coach James Kling (2010-Current)|
The Kling era
Head Coach James Kling, who joined the team in June of 2010 and is in his seventh season, said "My first year was tough because I had not recruited most of the women who were on the roster. I was able to bring in three or four of my own after I was hired, so there definitely was a learning curve on both mine and the players' point of view. The fall was the most critical that year as I had to implement my scheme of doing things as well as learn the players' skill level that we had. It all went fairly well, and we had a successful season."
That second year – 2011 – began the Kling era that now boasts an overall 176-96-1 record and 96-45 in conference going into his seventh season. His teams have been highly successful, qualifying for the conference tournament five out of six times.
In his first year, the team made it to the semifinals and the following year, they were tournament runners-up. Kling said, "I was pleased with the way we finished up our first and second year. I knew it would be a process to get the women in here who fit my way of coaching and [accepted] what my expectations were. Both teams were a great group of players, and we competed with everyone we went up against."
|Maegan Ramirez (2012-2015)|
The second and third year were as successful as the first. The team went 26-20 and 29-17 respectively, and Hannah Godina, Bourg, Maegan Ramirez and Brittany Stone all received NFCA All-Region honors, while Bourg, Godina, Brooke Hernandez, Stritz, Ramirez, Stone and Ruby Ximenez were named to the All-Conference Team. Bourg was named conference Player of the Year and Godina, Newcomer of the Year.
Bourg and Stritz finished out their collegiate careers in 2011 and both remain on the record books for the Saints. Stritz received her degree from OLLU in May 2011, while Bourg earned her degree in Dec. 2013.
Bourg is the second all-time leader in at-bats (440), in hits (157), in home runs (19), in total bases (250), in put outs (468); third in RBIs (93); fourth in doubles (30) and in stolen bases (20); and fifth in total runs (85). She has the most home runs in a single season with 11, and the most stolen bases in a single game with four. Bourg's career stats were: .357 avg., .568 slg., 85 runs, 157 hits, 440 at-bats, 19 home runs, 93 RBIs and .945 fielding.
Stritz has the third most wins (23), most innings pitched (219.2) and most strikeouts (155) and fourth most career shutouts (5). She has the second best ERA in a season (1.87) and the third most strikeouts (108). Her career stats at OLLU were: 2.68 ERA, 23-14, 155 strikeouts, .308 avg., .440 slg., 58 hits in 266 at bats and .949 fielding.
"The friendships I gained with this team will forever stick with me," Stritz said. "We all went through success and failure together and that's what made our relationships strong and continue even after OLLU. I know without a doubt, I could call one of my teammates and they would be there for me no matter what. That's important to me."
Bourg said "For me it is very important to keep in touch with the team. Those girls became family. I speak to a few of the originals very often and the rest from time to time. The others even if I don't speak to them daily, I know those girls are family no matter what. It's an amazing experience to see the girls doing so well even if it is from social media or however."
Stritz played two seasons (2010/2011), while Bourg played three seasons (2010/2011/2012) for the Saints.
|Brittany Stone (2012-2015)|
Continuing the traditions
In that third season, Maegan Ramirez and Brittany Stone joined the team to continue many of the traditions leading the team on the field and in the classroom. Both joined the Saints in 2012 and had an outstanding four-year collegiate career for the team. Each received many academic awards, as well as NFCA All-Region and All-Conference awards. Stone became the first softball player to be named a College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-American and a Daktronics-NAIA Scholar Athlete. She also received OLLU's highest award – the 2015 Big Blue Top Saint.
Ramirez said, "Being part of the OLLU softball team was like being part of a family. We were always together, whether it be for class our out on the field. Our team definitely had chemistry and we jelled so well together on the field. We learned from each other, we picked up each other, and we praised each other. Everyone understood what the common goal was."
"Being a part of such a young team was motivating," according to Stone, who is now Brittany McInnis after getting married in 2016. "Having to learn to play together every day was a challenge. Getting to learn how my new teammates played and jelling with them was like learning the game all over again – scary but rewarding. Coach Kling made the transition much easier. If you're going to do something, you might as well give it 100 percent and that is what we did as a team to become so successful. Sure, we had our ups and downs, but we won and lost as a team and that's what mattered. And when we lost, we came back even stronger and persevered."
A challenging season
The Saints fourth season was the one black mark on an otherwise highly successful program. From March 8, 2013 through April 13, 2013, the team had to forfeit 26 of 28 games. Kling commented, "It was heartbreaking to find out so late in the season that we had to forfeit some games because of eligibility issues on one of our players. I worked with [Athletic Director] Jack [Hank] and the registrar's office diligently after that to make it where not only I as a softball coach, but all the other coaches here would be notified if a player becomes ineligible during the season immediately versus a time delay. Hopefully, there will be no future occurrences of a situation like that. I felt bad for the team as we were sitting at the top of the conference standings I believe and would have vied for the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament."
Back on top
|Katrisha Arocha (2014-2015)|
The following year in 2014, the Saints came back with an extraordinary season, winning their first-ever conference regular season and conference tournament and qualifying for nationals. After a 15-32 2013 record, the Saints compiled their best-ever 39-12-1 season. "It was a nice way to put the previous season behind us and to show a lot of character as a team to be able to bounce back and win that next year. The team certainly deserved it, and I was very proud of how we played that year."
Playing major roles in the Saints' highly successful 2014 and 2015 season were Ramirez, Stone and Katrisha Arocha. Arocha joined the Saints after transferring from Texas A&M University – Kingsville. She became the first-ever softball player to be named an NAIA All-American. She also received conference pitcher of the year, newcomer of the year and many academic awards.
"The best part about being on the team was knowing that each [player] wanted the same thing you did and that was to be successful in the classroom and on the field. The team as a whole was that much better because we all had common goals and all strove to be the best that we could be."
The three hold many records at OLLU, including: career games played – Stone (192); career at-bats – Stone (614); career total runs – Stone (145); career doubles – Stone (52); career home runs – Stone (22); career RBIs – Stone (153); career total bases – Stone (350); career assists – Stone (283); career games/started as pitcher – Ramirez (104/87); career ERA – Arocha (1.79); career shutouts – Ramirez (16); career wins – Ramirez (50); career strikeouts – Arocha (491); and most strikeouts in a single game – Arocha (19).
In her first year, Arocha received a record-breaking five conference pitcher of the week honors, and the following year, she received three.
"The 2014 season was definitely the highlight of my college career, not only because we took home rings and went to nationals, but because of the girls that were by my side when we did it," Arocha said. "They all had my back as much as I had theirs and even though they would always tell me, 'You carried this team on your back,' I didn't feel that way at all because of how hard each and every individual worked along side me. It was truly a team effort, and the 2014 team was no doubt the best group of girls I've ever played for."
|The team won its first-ever conference and tournament championship in 2014.|
At the conclusion of the 39-14 2015 season, Arocha and Ramirez went on to walk the stage with degrees in kinesiology and communication disorders respectively. Arocha-Arriaga, who married Valerie Arocha-Arriaga in Oct. 2016, is a special education teacher at Palo Alto Elementary. Ramirez works with a pediatric home health company called Once Upon a Time Home Health as a speech language pathologist assistant.
"We learned from each other in practices and games," Ramirez commented. "We were teachers and coaches amongst ourselves on the team. In addition, everyone on the team understood her role…whether a starter or not.
"When every player understood their role, consistently giving 110 percent in every practice or game, and understanding what we were working toward," Ramirez said. "the games became fun and winning came along with it. The 2014 season was an unforgettable season with all the accomplishments our team achieved together as one. We did it for each other and the outcome was a success."
Stone said, "I loved being part of a competitive team with the drive to win. I came from a high school where we were pushed to be the best. Playing at OLLU, I felt the same push. Losing was not an option. Not giving your all was not an option. We wanted to win, we knew we could win, and so we did. Playing with teammates who shared a common goal was something that, as a collegiate athlete, you pray you have. And at OLLU, that isn't just something you wish or pray for, it actually happens. That is one thing that I truly loved about playing at OLLU."
Stone finished out her studies at OLLU in the fall of 2015, receiving her degree in biology. She now teaches in the Northside Independent School District.
|The softball team has contributed hundreds of hours of volunteer work as part of the NAIA's Champions of|
"Practice makes perfect is what we're told growing up. And so, that's what, as an individual, I did. I would go home after practice four-five times a week and hit with my dad. I believe that success is not made in the two-three hour practice you have with your team. It's the outside effort you put in when your coach isn't watching. The success that came in 2014 was with the continued work that each of us on the team put into practice outside of team practice. All the outside practice aside, the conference championship that we won in 2014 will forever be in OLLU history. That year, that team was amazing. That year that we went to Nationals it wasn't about one person. It was about a team that wanted it more than anything. The four years that I was able to call myself an OLLU Saint were some of the best years of my life. Being able to put on the uniform and play for my teammates and myself is something I can never get back and I would go back for in a heartbeat."
Continuing to strive for excellence
In 2016, the team's record dropped a bit to 28-20; however, the team were finalists in the conference tournament. Kling said, "Last year was a compilation of a lot of things that happened during the season that most all teams go through. We hit a tough spot in the middle of conference and dropped more games than what we should have. But the team showed a lot of resilience and went to the conference tournament with a no-pressure type of attitude and played relaxed, and it paid off. We were right there where we wanted to be. And that will help this year's team get to that next step and achieve our goals."
After that dreadful 2013 season, the Saints also bounced back academically and every year since, the team as a whole has earned conference and NAIA scholar team honors.
Kling, who received conference coach of the year in 2015, is happy with how the program has grown in eight years. "The best part of coaching to me, is watching the players compete and grow as a team, and then graduate. I get no better satisfaction as a coach as to watch them grow into mature young ladies and achieve their academic and athletic goals. As a team we have grown our GPA to be above a 3.2 cumulative, and we are always working to get that higher. The team now understands my expectations and what we are about. We want to represent OLLU, ourselves and our community in the right way. Winning and losing will take care of itself, but to watch them graduate and go on into their future careers is very rewarding."
Stritz, who now lives in Dallas and is a figure competitor, said, "I really enjoyed the atmosphere OLLU has. Everyone was so friendly and it felt like a family. The campus is very beautiful. Playing softball there was the cherry on top."
"I loved my experience at OLLU," commented Bourg, who returned home to Louisiana, and is a middle school physical education teacher and coach. "It is such an amazing family to be a part of. The small campus allowed a home feel. I also really loved the support I received academically and athletically. From Sister Ann [Petrus] coming to every game and being our biggest home fan to the tutoring opportunities we received," Bourg said.
Stone concluded, "2011-2015 were so incredible for me and my teammates – such a diverse group of girls coming together and becoming a family. I can only imagine how awesome it will be for the future of the Saints softball team!"
|Current team members|
The current team boasts many successes, as well. Junior Taylor Doege (JR/San Antonio, Texas) became the Saints' second NAIA All-American and the first NFCA-NAIA All-American last season. She also received conference player of the year honors. She is the team's all-time leader in batting average (.431) and triples (8) and the single season leader in hits (73), RBIs (51), slugging percentage (.805) and on base percentage (.520).
Lauren Garza (JR/McAllen, Texas), who received her bachelor's degree in May 2016 and is playing as a graduate student in her final season, received CoSIDA Academic All-District honors. Brittany Martinez (SR/El Paso, Texas), who also excelled for four years on the Saints volleyball team, earned conference defensive player of the year last season. And 12 of the team's 19 players earned GPAs 3.00 or better, with eight earning between 3.60-4.00 GPAs.
It's definitely been eight years of ups and very few downs, but the inaugural team members set the groundwork for the women who followed them to fight, prevail and succeed.
Our Lady of the Lake University is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2016-2017 as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The University began competing in the NAIA in men's soccer and volleyball in 2007. A year later, they added women's soccer, golf and tennis. In 2009, the Saints began competing in cross-country, softball and basketball. In 2014, OLLU added two more sports — baseball and track and field. There are now 13 intercollegiate athletic teams at OLLU. All athletic alumni and up to two family members will receive free admission to basketball and volleyball games throughout the season. Baseball is not included in this special offer. All other home games are free and open to the public.