Houston focuses on mental well-being, academics as it looks ahead to 2021
An 11-game winning streak, a no-hitter, launching 38 homeruns, which was fifth-most in the nation, were just a few of the many highlights to Houston’s strong start in the 2020 softball season before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the season to an abrupt end.
Although the 2020 campaign was cut short, head coach Kristin Vesely was impressed with what she saw in her team, especially the culture and chemistry that was built.
“The most impressive thing to me was the culture,” Vesely said. “They were actually learning to be unselfish and to be happy for each other, which is very difficult to do in team sports. I thought the ‘it’ factor we had this year was chemistry.”
Though the season was barely beginning to build up steam, the team’s poise showed promise of a lot of success.
“There were a couple of times when stuff started to get shaky on the field in the middle of a game and you really got to see them pull together and overcome it,” Vesely said. “It is really impressive what they’re able to do with their leadership and general love for each other.”
Sophomore catcher Kati Ray Brown echoed Vesely’s comments about the team’s chemistry and love for one another, praising her coach for the culture she built around the program.
“Coach Vesely really talks about team chemistry and that she wants to create an environment where everybody is super close,” Brown said. “This year we had a couple of transfers come in and our freshman come in and everybody clicked really well on and off the field.”
According to Brown, the team’s bond was strong off the field, which translated to the trust in each other in between the lines.
“I think our relationship off the field really helped with our relationship on the field,” Brown said. “Everybody just gets along really well, and I’d have to give that credit to Vesely for putting that chemistry together.”
Brown, who was having a breakout season, batting .333 with a team-high nine home runs, attributed her success at the plate to the support of her teammates, which is a direct result of the strong chemistry the team built this season.
“I was able to put up pretty big numbers because I had the support of my team,” Brown said. “Going up to bat or going to the field, I just wanted to perform very well for them.”
Although the team is currently not able to physically be together due to the coronavirus, they are still staying connected through technology.
“We talk to each other constantly still even though we’re not living together or on the field together,” Brown said.
Coach Vesely and her staff have emphasized the importance of academics and mental health over this period. They have set up weekly video conferences with a learning specialist to assist the athletes with any academic help they need, and the coaching staff also encourages the team to stay physically active to maintain positive mental health.
“Our No. 1 focus over this quarantine is academics and being a student now that the athlete part has taken a back burner,” Vesely said.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances, the Cougars are choosing to look at the positives from this year and plan to carry over the momentum into 2021.
“What we’re probably going to do next year is just treat the 2020 season as a preseason,” Vesely said. “We had a chance to get tested. We had a chance to see what we did well and we’re going to carry that over into 2021. We’ve already learned of any mistake that we made [during this season] so that we can be that much better in 2021.”
Vesely also emphasized how important 2020 was for their players, especially their younger pitchers, as they were able to gain experience without losing a year of eligibility which should give them a tremendous advantage in 2021.
“They all threw a significant amount, so they have at least a quarter of a year to a third of a year under their belt,” Vesely said. ” Offensively, we’ll have almost a full year, come next season, to make sure that everybody understands the philosophy and to get that much better at our skill and our craft.”
Ultimately, having the season cut short has made the Cougars even more hungry and driven to be successful in 2021.
“We have so much chemistry and momentum built this year that we’re already talking about moving that to next year,” Brown said. “Having this time off really just lights a fire underneath us and makes us want to do even better next year and just bring that momentum and be an even stronger team next year.”