RIO HONDO —When a team has a banner year like the Rio Hondo Lady Bobcats did last season, the first question which comes to mind is: “How will they follow it up?”
The Lady Bobcats stormed through and won the 32-3A championship and won two playoff series, finishing 26-5 en route to a spot in the Region-IV Quarterfinals under skipper Brett Esparza. The feat was the furthest the Rio Hondo softball program had ever advanced.
But that’s all history.
Now, 12 girls return for the Lady Bobcats, who certainly have visions of a Sweet 16 trip (and beyond) as the 2015 high school softball season gets under way this week.
“Expectations are high once again. We have always strived to be fundamentally strong in the field and have many phases to our offense and that will not change regardless of last season,” Esparza said. “We see this year as another challenge to be a better version of ourselves across the board. We feel that there are still lots to improve upon and we are going to work constantly to play a more quality brand of softball.”
Of the dozen Lady Bobcats returning, seven of them earned postseason honors and will be players to watch during this new campaign. They include 32-3A Co-defensive MVP Julissa Lopez, 32-3A Offensive POY Tianna Sandoval, first-team all-district pick Jennifer Flores, Alexa Castellanos (first-team all-district shortstop), Katherine Nieto (district Designated Player of the Year), Victoria Aguilar (1st team all district 2B) and Vero Ruiz (first team outfielder).
Despite all of that success last year, Esparza said he and his girls want to take their respective games to the next level, and that starts with practice.
“We are going to have to find ways to evolve as a unit. We are blessed to have a strong team returning and an abundance of young talent in our sub – varsity level,” he said. “Competition at practice will be at an all-time high I’m sure.”
This year, District 32-4A will be an 8-team dogfight, welcoming back the Willacy County softball powerhouse Lyford as well as usually-salty Raymondville. Regular nemesis Zapata, Grulla, Hidalgo, La Feria and Port Isabel, along with Progreso, a new program, round out this year’s group.
“Our district is always tough and everyone seems to be returning a nucleus of their team so the district is wide open,” Esparza said. “I’m excited to see how we play our regular foes in PI, La Feria and Hidalgo; those teams will be well coached and ready for us … I feel it’s anybody race to win. We’ll strap it on and go toe to toe with anyone, but down the stretch I can easily see the district being a log jam. We are gonna play the hand we’re dealt and let the chips fall where they may.”
So far through the preseason, the Lady Bobcats have picked up where they left off and Esparza hopes that transpires to the diamond throughout the year.
“We are off to a strong start. I have been pleased with our scrimmages (Valley View, Mission, Harlingen South, Weslaco East and PSJA Memorial) and I think we have improved in each of the scrimmages and that’s all I ask. We have to play at the level of our goals and continue to push in that direction. This season has all the makings of something special. We just have to find ways to be true to ourselves and take each game in stride.”
Rio Hondo begins its season Thursday as it joins the field at the Donna Softball Tournament through the weekend.
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