Mar. 11—LYFORD — The Lyford Lady Bulldogs softball program had a lot to celebrate March 3 when three of its players signed to continue their careers at the college level.
Hannah Garza signed to play at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio in the Red River Athletic Conference at the NAIA level. Ayleen Castillo and Adelle Rojas both signed with Howard Payne University in Brownwood to compete in the American Southwest Conference at the NCAA Division III level.
"Congratulations to those girls. It's a great thing and a big stepping stone for the other girls to show them anything's possible if you put the work in," Lyford coach Joey Rios said. "This summer was hard with the pandemic, and for them to be able to push through and find their way into camps, clinics and showcases and do everything they did was a testament to their dedication, and now look at where they're at. It's been a blessing and a true honor to be able to coach those individuals, and I'm looking forward to watching them be successful this season and in the playoffs."
Garza has been working toward a college softball career for most of her life, under the influence of her father and Lyford assistant coach Albert Garza. Rios called her a student of the game and praised her versatility on the diamond as a benefit for the Lady Bulldogs, and as something that made her "very marketable" through the recruitment process.
Hannah Garza said being a college softball player has been her dream since she was 8 years old. She went to every camp, showcase and tournament she could, and she put a highlight video together with her dad to gain exposure. She knows the next level won't be easy, but she's looking forward to competing at second base for OLLU coach Bruce Lenington while she studies kinesiology to become an athletic trainer.
"I worked really hard all my life, playing since I was 4 years old with my dad coaching me, so getting to actually put pen to paper meant a lot to me," Garza said. "My mom is like my best friend. She's been there for me a lot ... she's the one I run to and picks me up. My dad has always been my No. 1 fan, and I love him to death. As much as he's hard on me, I know that it did me good and it molded me into the person I am today. ... To my teammates trying to sign also, I say don't give up on your dreams and work hard. You'll get there. Be patient."
Castillo prides herself on her defense and mans the hot corner for Lyford. She's aiming to do the same for the Lady Yellow Jackets, but she's prepared to play anywhere coach Jose Mata needs her. Castillo started working toward an athletic scholarship from a young age, but she also takes her academics very seriously. She'll be studying nursing at HPU and wants to be a midwife.
Rios called Castillo a student of the game and said her ability to hit from both sides and put down a variety of slap hits from the box will benefit her in college. Castillo said she's excited for her next journey and ready to keep working hard to get better like she has throughout the years working toward this goal.
"That day meant a lot to me because it's been mine and my father's goal since I was in eighth grade. It was like a dream come true," Castillo said. "I felt like everything was worth it in the end, and that was exciting. When I saw my family, my friends and my coaches, I just felt very happy. They were there through my whole journey, and I want to thank all my coaches for helping me get where I'm at today."
Rojas has put in a lot of work the past few years to become a college athlete. She missed her sophomore season with a broken finger, but she didn't give up on her goal. Rojas thanked her parents, coaches and cousin Jerrica Rojas, a Lyford alumnus and current NCAA Division I softball player, for pushing her and being by her side through this journey.
Rios and Rojas said the pitcher worked out a lot this offseason, which increased her arm strength and speed a lot. That helped Rojas catch Mata's eye after a strong performance in the circle at a travel tournament, and that sparked her path to HPU. Rojas will be studying history and wants to be a teacher after college.
"(Signing) meant a lot because after I had my injury I didn't think I would get back to pitching. Knowing that I'm going to go to college to pitch is a big dream come true," Rojas said. "I've always wanted to go to a place that felt like home. Whenever I first drove into Brownwood, the scenery and everything just felt like home. I'm sure going to the next level's going to be really nerve-wracking and everything, but with all the support I have, I'll be fine."