Thursday, October 2, 2014

Natalie Fernandez Steps Into Justin's World

Christina Hamilton and Natalie Fernandez
Photo courtesy of Natalie Fernandez
Over the past four seasons, the Louisiana-Lafayette has been in overdrive. One of the steadiest contributors during that time is today’s featured player, Natalie Fernandez.

When the Ragin Cajuns participated in the World Series in 2014, it was Fernandez’s .418 batting average that paced the squad. She recorded a .523 on-base percentage and additionally led her team in hits, runs, walks, and stolen bases.

Though many of her national awards came this past season, 2014 was just the culmination of four years of a stellar career. In 2012, she posted a .436 average, good enough for a national rank of 12th.

There are a couple of particularly interesting notes that I want to be sure to point out… between her junior and senior seasons, Natalie made a complete position change, moving to 2nd base from her usual position at the hot corner. The transition was flawless, as Fernandez put up a .967% in her first and only season as a middle infielder.

Also worthy of note is Fernandez’s lack of power. While her senior-season statistics weren’t immediately available, during the previous two seasons, Natalie recorded exactly zero extra base hits. In 136 hits over the two seasons, not a single one went beyond 1st base after the crack of the bat.

It sounds almost odd to call a lack of extra base hits a highlight, but it goes to show that you don’t have to be the most powerful hitter on the team to be a superstar.

You can find Natalie on Facebook and Twitter @NatalieFern3.

Let’s start off simply. How did you get started playing softball?
I have an older sister who played softball. I actually owe a lot of my competitiveness to her. When we were growing up, I would always try to be better than her and beat her at everything we did. I’m known for my speed but actually growing up, the only way I could beat my sister was if I took my shoes off!

Did you play any other sports as a young athlete? If so, how did you decide on softball as “your” sport?
I played softball and basketball growing up. I was always fast but was an awful shooter in basketball. I could steal the ball and be all by myself trying to shoot a layup and I would literally throw it so hard up there it would go all the way back to the other team! So needless to say, I was a lot better at softball and basketball was just for fun.

Who is your hero and how does/did that person’s influence affects you on the field during a game?
His name is Mr. Underwood. He passed away my freshman year at UL and that was the hardest thing I’ve had to go through so far in life. He is my hero in many different ways. He had a way of talking to me and making me feel like I could do anything. Also, he beat cancer 4 times in his life and he never gave up. That is a huge influence in my life to never give up and keep pushing no matter the circumstances.

Why UL?
Whenever I went on my visit to UL, the second I got there, I got this feeling of togetherness and sisterhood. I knew from the get-go that I wanted to be a part of that special bond. Now that I’ve gone through the program, it is exactly like I thought it would be and so much more. The Lafayette community comes together for the softball program to make it one big family and I am so happy to say I will be apart of this Ragin Cajun softball family forever.

Describe the WCWS experience, if you can. Getting to go in your senior season after some near-misses in years past must have been pretty special.
In the beginning of our season, we came together and decided what our goals were going to be. We decided to take the risk to dream big and give it everything we have. Being able to go to the World Series was a dream come true for me. It is every little girl’s dream to be able to get to that field in Oklahoma City and I get to say I experienced it. This team honestly came together as one unit, one heartbeat. The whole entire season is something that I will remember forever.

Tell us what it was like playing for Mike Lotief.
Coach Mike is probably the most passionate man I’ve ever met. He does what he loves and he does it with everything he has. He pours his heart and soul to the Ragin Cajun softball program and it shows. ALL of my success I owe to him on and off the field. He has molded me into the person I am today and I will forever be grateful for the life lessons he has taught me. If you come to one game for one inning, you can see all of his passion for this sport and his girls just pour out and it is truly inspiring.

Having already gained a high school head coaching position, I think it’s fair to ask if you always thought coaching would be your post-college career path? Has it always been something that you aspired to do?
Not exactly. I was always on the fence between coaching and Occupational Therapy. Two very different career paths. About three weeks after the World Series, I got a call from Oak Forest Academy and I felt like it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. It will be a great learning experience for me, as well as me figuring out what I want to do. I can say though that I love it! Everyone at Oak Forest has welcomed me with open arms. I am very grateful to be at a school that supports me 100%.

Some coaches stay at the high school level, while others continue to move up… is coaching on the collegiate level your goal?
As of right now, I am going to stick with the high school level. I have some learning to do, switching from a player to a coach is different and I want to get some experience first.

And now for my favorite question. Say you were stranded on a deserted island for an undetermined period of time… you can take three things with you. Boats and phones are off-limits. What would you take?
I would bring one of my best friends, Christina Hamilton.  For anyone that knows her, she would keep things VERY interesting and entertaining. I would also bring a knife. Last thing I would bring would definitely be a toothbrush!

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