ARLINGTON, Texas - Ending the 2018 campaign in the National Invitational Softball Championship final four, UT Arlington continued to raise the bar on its expectations as it laid the foundation to strive for more in the upcoming years.
Under first-year head coach Peejay Brun, the Mavericks earned their second consecutive 30-win season, a first for the program since 2006 and 2007, reached the final four of the tough Sun Belt Conference Championship tournament and advanced out of a postseason regional for the first time in program history.
For Brun, the success that 2018 brought was only a table setter as she continues to raise the expectations of what her program can achieve.
"The big thing that was accomplished was us building a strong foundation for the future," Brun said. "That was one of my main goals. The winning was always nice, going further in postseason was nice, but I knew that if we didn't build a solid foundation, then future years would just crumble on me. We came together and bonded really well. They bought into a lot of philosophies and ethics that I brought into the program and that is going to set us up for good years to come, not just one year."
With the Women's College World Series wrapping up in Oklahoma City earlier in the week, the page turns towards the future in softball's calendar year. For UTA, that future is shining bright with a wealth of talent returning next season. NFCA All-Region selections Laura Curry and Reagan Wright lead a squad that loses just three seniors.
Curry led the Mavs with a .355 batting average, while Wright shattered the program's all-time RBI record, knocking in 53 during the campaign. They are joined by 10 regular starters, including a pair of pitchers, that only has their eyes up on competing for the conference crown.
"It is really exciting to know that we are bringing back a huge core of this group," Brun said. "It sets up for a good positive year next year, where it is not going to be as much teaching, there will still be things and parts of the program to improve, but it more so taking the next step. To have that solid core on the defense coming back make its easier so that we can take that step."
What makes the group coming back even more cohesive is the bond that they have both on and off the field. Starting at the top with a group of seniors that truly displayed a sense of being selfless and being all about the team. Sandra Mendoza, a three-time All-Conference selection and All-Region member in her sophomore season, pathed the way to show what it meant to compete as a Maverick. She was joined by four-year letterwinner Bryanna Datko, and senior transfer Alyssa Chavez in displaying leadership that didn't have to be just displayed in playing time. The trio was all about the team, and individual success did not matter if the team did not win.
"They were true team players, all three of them," said Brun "Sandra is the only one that got a lot of playing time, and accomplished so much, but the other two, every player wants to play and be on the field, and the one thing that was great about those two is that if we used them or not, they never stopped being great teammates. That is huge when it is coming from seniors. It sets a precedent to say that I am still fighting for this team and you better do the same. It shows there is always something you can bring to the team. It is a huge example for the younger kids to see two of their leaders show them that it didn't matter. Playing time wasn't the factor, it was how they would pick each other up and fight for each other."
That fight for the team carried over into a bond of being a family both on and off the field. When asked about what she'll look back on with this team, she believed it was their desire to enjoy their time with one another, to compete together and fight for the same goal together.
"This team was able to find a way to have fun but still compete. We did have a lot of fun and enjoyed being around each other, that is huge in building a program. They never really lost the drive to just keep competing. For the younger kids, we have just seen a touch of their potential. All of the togetherness that showed up really was an amazing thing that will really help us out next year."
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