LAFAYETTE — Expectations have never been higher for the Louisiana-Lafayette softball team.
The squad is coming off its sixth trip to the Women’s College World Series last year, aided by the stellar pitching of now-senior Christina Hamilton. In 2013, Jordan Wallace was the Ragin’ Cajuns’ dominant pitcher, and she also returns for her senior season.
Those outside the program — the team is ranked No. 9 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association preseason poll — have set lofty expectations, and coach Michael Lotief doesn’t fault them for that. But he said no one sets loftier goals for the team than he does.
“The expectations are what they are,” Lotief said. “This program has high expectations. It doesn’t come from the outside; it comes from within. No matter who we graduate or who gets hurt, the expectations don’t change. I embrace them, the team embraces them and the fans embrace them.”
This team is particularly well equipped to handle adversity after it lost just two players from last year’s squad. In 2014, the Cajuns weren’t expected to have the season they had, especially when Wallace did not return to form.
So far this preseason, Wallace has been shut down for the past two weeks, and Hamilton, who was 29-4 last season with a 1.56 ERA, is likely to not be ready for opening day. And Victoria Brown, who was 6-1 last year, had preseason shoulder surgery to have bone spurs removed.
“We have adversity right now with this team already,” Lotief said. “Victoria having surgery, Jordan struggling with inflammation and Christina having issues — those are the kids with experience. We are going to need to be resilient and have a next-man-up mentality.”
Kylee Jo Trahan, a true freshman from Burkburnett, Texas, may be thrown into the circle a little sooner than Lotief would like. Helping to fill the two losses in the lineup — Natalie Fernandez and Shelbi Redfearn — could be D.J. Sanders, a freshman from Columbus, Mississippi, who was named to the U.S. junior women’s national team.
“D.J. Sanders has done a nice job playing shortstop, and her bat is starting to come around,” Lotief said. “Kylie Jo Trahan will be a name that people will become familiar with.”
Lotief said facing early-season adversity will only make this year’s team stronger. He said he doesn’t want fans to expect anything less than excellence.
Despite not winning a national championship in his 15-year career, he said he has never completed a season feeling as though he failed.
“I’ve never met that ultimate goal we set for ourselves,” Lotief said. “Our fans have been committed, and I love how much they believe in us. Once you define your goals and expectations for the season, you have to put those away for a while and you have to go to work.
“When you face adversity during the grind of the season, your expectations don’t change. It just makes it tougher, and you have to grind a little tougher. You have to search for answers and solutions. We dream big and answer the adversity the season presents itself. That is the only way I know how to do it.”