Get To Know Softball's Nine Newcomers
Mean Green Introduce Six Freshman, Three Transfers
DENTON – When the North Texas softball team takes the field in 2018, nearly half the 19-member squad will suit up in a Mean Green uniform for the first time as freshman or transfers.
While most head coaches would be shaking in their cleats at those numbers, North Texas softball head coach Tracey Kee enters 2018 with a glass-half-full mentality.
"When you look at this year's squad, even though they're new to our program, they have a high softball IQ and have competed in some of the largest stages in our sport” Kee said. “They put in a lot of good work in the fall and headed into the spring I'm very optimistic."
The crop of newcomers combine for an impressive list of accolades including three district pitchers of the year at the 6A level in Texas, three state championships and a NJCAA Third-Team All-American.
The last honor belongs to Sam Rea, one of two junior college transfers along with Sally Gastelo. The two played together in their freshman year at Phoenix College before Gastelo transferred to Arizona Western College. With two years of junior college ball under their belts, the duo boasts a lot of potential for their limited time at the Division I ranks.
"There's still a learning curve for them and it's a different stage,” Kee said. “They're both competitors and have been putting in the work to get into the lineup."
To introduce fans to the group of new faces, coach Kee discussed what she likes about each addition, and the players talked about joining the team.
Katie Clark | SO | OF | Bat/Throw: L/L | Katy, Texas (Stephen F. Austin)
Clark joins North Texas as a mid-year transfer from Stephen F. Austin, where she started in 21 games as a freshman. She ranked fourth on the Lady Jacks with a .229 batting average and tallied 16 hits, six RBI and three stolen bases.
"She's been a nice addition to our outfield, between her speed, the ground she can cover and her ability to close in on balls,” Kee said. “She adds another lefty stick into the lineup. She's made a quick transition from one Division I school to another.”
With a chance to shine on her second NCAA stop, Clark can always be seen at practice with a smile on her face.
“When you see a kid who comes to practice happy, you know you're going to get good things out of them,” Kee said. “She's been ready to compete as soon as she stepped on campus."
Clark reunites with former teammate Hanna Rebar, a fellow mid-year transfer from SFA from last season, and former Lady Jacks head coach Gay McNutt, now North Texas’ volunteer assistant coach.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Clark said. “It’s all in God’s plan and He just took us on a little detour. It’s really cool to be here with everybody.”
Sally Gastelo | JR | OF | Bat/Throw: R/R | Yuma, Ariz. (Arizona Western College)
Gastelo comes to Denton from Arizona Western College, where she earned NJCAA All-Academic Honors with a 3.8 GPA. As a freshman, she was a member of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference champion Phoenix College team that took fourth place at the NJCAA Tournament.
"She's a hard working student-athlete both in the classroom and on the field,” Kee said. “She's a fierce competitor when it comes to conditioning and she pushes her teammates."
Coming from a small town, Gastelo knew she had to do what it takes to keep the opportunity to play softball at the next level alive.
“Once I got to that next level, I knew I was going to have to get good grades to pay for school if the scholarship didn’t cover it,” Gastelo said.
Miranda Holguin | FR | UT | Bat/Throw: R/R | Cibolo, Texas (Steele High School)
A four-year letterwinner for head coach Michelle Uribe, Holguin earned Second Team All-District 25-6A recognition all four seasons. Standing 5-feet tall, she brings a lot of potential despite her size.
"She's undersized for a Division I player, but she plays big,” Kee said. “She has some of the best glove skills I've seen in somebody so young. She has grasped playing middle infield quite well and those are difficult positions to be thrown into at this level."
Growing up, Holguin used her size and the words of those who told her she was too small as fuel to make herself a better player. Now she relies on that determination and competitiveness to be one of the biggest playmakers.
“I had to work harder to prove that I belong on the field among the best of the best,” Holguin said. “I was raised to always give 110 percent, regardless of what I was up against. My goal isn’t to prove others wrong, but instead prove to myself that I don’t need the few extra inches to be successful.”
Ally Lindsey | FR | P | Bat/Throw: R/R | Flower Mound, Texas (Marcus High School)
Lindsey was the District 5-6A Pitcher of the Year in 2017 and a three-year letterwinner for head coach Christy Tumilty. While she pitched at an elite high-school level, she’s going to have to rely on her composure on the mound to succeed at the college level.
"Pitching on this level is so different from travel ball and high school,” Kee said. “You're facing all-state-caliber players 1-9. She's a quiet competitor. She's going to get on the mound with ice water in her veins."
Those close to Lindsey know she isn’t one to wear her heart on her sleeve, which attributes to her calm, cool and collected manner when she steps on the mound.
“That helps me keep myself together if I’m doing good or bad,” Lindsey said. “It helps me stay focused.”
Maria Priest | FR | P | Bat/Throw: R/R | Stonewall, Okla. (Latta High School)
Priest earned fast-pitch and slow-pitch all-state honors as a senior while leading her team to the school’s first fast-pitch state title in 2016. Coach Kee praised her for showing the tools of a veteran pitcher early on.
“She has a lot of pitches to go to and can balance the plate well,” Kee said. “The ability to self-correct immediately is probably the hardest thing for pitchers on this level. If she misses a spot or hangs a ball where she shouldn't have, she can fix it on the next pitch instead of taking 5-10 pitches to do so."
Although she enjoyed much success in high school level, pitching in Division I is a whole other ballgame. Priest knows there are things she will have to fine-tune to be successful in her rookie year.
“I need to keep the ball off the plate a little more,” Priest said. “In high school, it wasn’t a big deal, but here, we’re going to face much better hitters.”
Sam Rea | JR | 1B | Bat/Throw: L/L | Scottsdale, Ariz. (Phoenix College)
A third team all-american last year at Phoenix College, Rea adds more than just a power lefty bat into the Mean Green lineup.
“She’s quickly learned our infield defensive schemes and systems,” Kee said. She's been putting in extra time to make up for the fall she missed. I'm expecting big things from her and if all goes well, she should be a good run-producer in the middle of our lineup."
While Rea is a new face on the roster for 2018, the junior feels the need to step up as a leader on a team with 13 freshman and sophomores and take advantage of the shortened time she has here.
“It’s important for me to prove myself and set a good example for the younger girls,” Rea said. “I only have two more years to play the sport I love, so I’m not going to sit back and take my time learning.”
Hope Trautwein | FR | P | Bat/Throw: R/R | Pflugerville, Texas (Hendrickson High School)
Trautwein was the District 13-6A Pitcher of the Year in 2017 and a two-time all-district selection under head coach Lindsey Eaton. She’s one of three freshman pitchers that will be thrown in the deep end as immediate contributors.
“I’m nervous but very confident in myself and Maria and Ally,” Trautwein said. “We’re all very different but similar enough that we work well together.”
Kee is impressed by Trautwein’s strong mentality and frame, but her intangibles make her a promising arm for the Mean Green pitching staff.
"She's not scared to go right after hitters but understands the meticulous details involved when it comes to power and spins,” Kee said. “She's a diligent worker in the bullpen and a great teammate to have around."
Briana Valdez | FR | IF | Bat/Throw: R/R | El Paso, Texas (Eastlake High School)
Valdez was the District 2-5A Co-MVP in 2017 and the District 2-5A Pitcher of the Year in 2016 at Eastlake High School. In her first year, she has already come a long way in coach Kee’s eyes.
"She struggled with the pace of the game at first, but she came back in January a completely transformed player,” Kee said. “Her hard work over the break paid off. She has the potential to add power to the lineup."
Valdez admitted it was a bit of a culture shock going from high school to college, but the sacrifices her and her family made to get to this point served as a motivator over winter break.
“I just really didn’t want to let them down after all they did for me,” Valdez said.
Kourtney Williams | FR | UT | Bat/Throw: R/R | Keller, Texas (Keller High School)
A member of back-to-back state champions, Kourtney Williams helped Keller to an overall 119-29-1 record in four seasons. Just as her high school showed consistency in winning, she shows consistency in her play.
"If I had to pick one word for her, it'd be steady,” Kee said. “She can hit all sides and zones of the plate. Defensively, she gets it done. You won't see a lot of flash, but you'll see that consistent play being made. She's a silent competitor."
Williams’ key to her consistency, especially at the plate, involves stripping the game down to its basics.
“Sometimes you just can’t think too hard about it,” Williams said. “You have to think, ‘just hit the ball.’ Don’t think about your hands or what happened in your last at-bat. You have to keep it simple and let it happen.”