Former University of Louisiana at Lafayette softball player Natalie Fernandez on Wednesday was named as one of two athletes to represent the Sun Belt Conference in the competition to become the 2014 NCAA Woman of the Year.
“This is a great honor to be nominated for,” Fernandez said. “But it’s not just my award. It’s just as much the UL softball team’s award; it’s to all my professors and the athletic staff. I feel like it’s not just awarded to me, it’s awarded to everyone that’s helped me get to this point.”
The NCAA established the award in 1991 as a way of recognizing its graduating female student-athletes who displayed excellence not only in sports but also in the classroom, the community and as leaders. Fernandez is one of 130 athletes up for the honor; that list has been trimmed from 446 original nominees.
“Natalie epitomizes pursuing excellence both in the classroom and on the field,” softball coach Michael Lotief said in a release. “With Natalie, it was not only just about winning but it was also about winning the right way. She set the example for our team last year with hard work and getting better day by day and by having a positive, confident attitude no matter the outcome.”
Fernandez, a Live Oak High product who became a four-year starter for the Cajuns, led the team with a .419 batting average last season as UL-Lafayette made a push to the Women’s College World Series. Fernandez never hit worse than .345 in a single season.
But it wasn’t her career athletic exploits that had her up for the honor, at least not entirely.
She was named the inaugural Female Athlete of the Year at UL-Lafayette for her contributions to the university and in the community. In addition to being president of the UL-Lafayette Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the governing body for student athletes, she volunteered her time with Girl Scouts of America and the children’s ward at local hospitals and contributed to the “Reading in Red” program.
“Natalie was a true leader who spent many hours influencing her teammates to believe in our goals and also holding them accountable to our standard,” Lotief said.
Each NCAA member school annually selects a representative to compete for the honor. Each conference then selects up to two candidates.
The NCAA will release a list of the top 30 candidates — 10 from each division — in early September. That list will be trimmed to nine — three from each division — by late September. The winner will be announced Oct. 19.
Since Fernandez graduated, she moved closer to her roots and recently was named the head coach for Oak Forest Academy in Amite. Fernandez said she was always on the fence between teaching and coaching or working in occupational therapy during her college years, but the situation fell into her lap.
“It’s one of those things that I have to try out and see where I’m at right now,” Fernandez said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to figure out if this is what I want to do, and it’s a great school and a great program. I’m excited.”