Former Belen Lady Eagle softball player Nicole Chavez never got the state championship she hoped for as a high school player. But now she’s got a national championship to help fill the void.
Chavez and the St. Mary’s University Rattlers of San Antonio went, saw, and conquered the field at the 2002 Division II College Softball World Series. The Rattlers beat Grand Valley State (Michigan) in the championship game after Grand Valley came out of the loser’s bracket to beat them and force a decisive final game.
“That loss was a wake up call for the team,” Chavez said. “We just said, ‘We can play better than that,’ and we came out and did it.”
The Rattlers got better and better as the season went along.
“At the beginning of the year, we played good, but we new there was room for improvement. Nothing was ever enough,” Chavez said. “We always knew we had to work harder. We played a really tough schedule, and we traveled a lot, but we knew that would get us where we wanted to go. The team has a really good work ethic and team chemistry.”
Chavez graduated BHS in 2000 after playing four years of softball. Her junior year, the Lady Eagles, coached by her mother, Lisa, beat Del Norte in the state playoffs but lost to powerful Carlsbad in the quarter-finals.
Nicole also played basketball and two years of soccer at BHS. She then got a full-ride academic scholarship to St. Mary’s and decided to try out for the softball team.
“I thought ‘I have a scholarship, what do I have to lose if I try out?'” she said.
Chavez is the backup third baseman/utility infielder for the Rattlers, and, though she isn’t starting, she said the future is bright for her and her team.
“I’m playing behind the conference’s freshman of the year,” she said. “We have some seniors leaving, so I may be getting some more time at either inside infield or third if the third baseman moves to short.
“Everyone on the team is focused on their different role and how important it is. My job is to push the girl in front of me. We respect each other,” she said.
Chavez is majoring in communications and would like to become a journalist after college. She said her main focus is school.
“If I don’t keep up my grades, I can’t play at all,” Chavez said. “That makes it a little more difficult.”
Aside from her studies, Chavez said the biggest challenge for her thus far in college is making a name for herself on the softball team.
“In Belen, coaches see you playing your whole life, and you can establish yourself like that,” Chavez said. “Here, especially as a walk-on, it is hard to establish yourself as a player. You have to be better than the scholarship athletes.”
If there is anything that would help her to establish herself, it would be her work ethic. A trait that was instilled in her by her family but is all her own at the same time.
“In my family, you work hard,” Chavez said. “It doesn’t mean you have to be the best or win the most awards, but if you’re slacking, my parents will let you know.
“But my parents just instilled that in me. I don’t work hard for them; I work hard because I want to be the best, and if I don’t work hard, I disappoint myself.”
Playing in college isn’t something everyone gets to experience, and Chavez said she has learned a lot from her first two seasons at St. Mary’s.
“Our whole team has really learned the value of teamwork,” Chavez said. “In anything I do after this, this team has taught me how to look beyond that and how to work with other people.”
For their efforts throughout the season, the team members all received a number of goodies from the NCAA, including a backpack and a watch, among other things. Plus, when they get back to school next semester, they will get championship rings they designed themselves.