Above photo of Milly Cesare by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
With the UMHB softball team approaching the end of its regular season schedule, True To The Cru is featuring several of the team’s seniors, covering each of their impacts on the program and how the program has impacted each of them.
BELTON- Milly Cesare has played in 129 games in a UMHB uniform. For the last three years, there has not been a game played in which she did not start. And yet, the Frisco native doesn’t have to think too far back when it comes to her favorite memory up to this point.
Just over a month ago, the senior shortstop was 1-for-3 in a monumental victory for the program, as the Cru defeated then-No. 1 ranked Texas Lutheran in Belton. Nine days later, No. 4 Belhaven fell in game one of a weekend series at Dee Dillon Field, 8-2. A week after that, No. 7 ETBU was shutout by the Cru on its home field, These, Cesare says, are the kinds of memories she wants to make during her final year at UMHB.
“That’s what gets me going,” Cesare said of the victories. “That’s what I’ve been working for. I had never beaten [ETBU] until then. Beating TLU, who was the No. 1 team then, felt like we’d won the world series. Seeing Coach Mojica’s face after those, it was like, ‘Wow, we did that.’ It’s the best feeling.”
It has been a season to remember for Cesare, whose final regular season games in Belton will be contested against Sul Ross State this weekend. The Crusaders are currently ranked No. 12 in D-III by the NFCA and are aiming at reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
“This will be my last season,” Cesare said. “It’ll be very bittersweet.”
Bittersweet because, as someone who has been at UMHB for all four of her collegiate seasons, the passion and awe for the university she had upon first glance has remained, and grown. “There’s no way this is D-III,” she remembers initially thinking on her recruiting visit.
“It blew me away,” Cesare remembers of her first visit to UMHB. “Honestly, talking to the coaches, a relationship formed and I was hooked immediately. I can talk to them about anything. That’s something I really cherish and something I think myself and my teammates are really lucky to have.”
She has taken the example set by former head coach Larry Hennig and current head coach Melissa Mojica and applied it to her role as a leader within the program the last couple of seasons. Known for being a vocal supporter of her teammates, both from her position at shortstop and in the dugout, the Frisco, Texas native has an infectious impact. Her passion for the program is never in question.
“Milly is the perfect example of a person who practices what she preaches,” senior first baseman Tatum Stover said. “She not only expects everyone to give 100% but she also gives 100% everyday. She is everything you could ask for in a teammate. If I could describe Milly in three words it would be selfless, humble, and inspirational. Milly would do absolutely anything for anyone and not expect anything in return.”
Starting centerfielder Lexi Harris agrees.
“Not only is Milly my best friend on the team, she is a true athlete and a true leader on and off the field,” Harris notes. “She adds stability to our team. She is a genuine good Christian person that leads by example. She’s also someone you can go to for any kind of problem and you know she will have your best interest at heart with any situation.”
That is the exact kind of impact Cesare says she is hoping to leave on the program. An impact and example that will last long after she has hung up the cleats following this season.
“I want people to look back and think,’She cared about her teammates,’” Cesare told True To The Cru.”More the chemistry part of it rather than the softball, and just caring for each other. Because all we have is each other. We go through everything together.”
As a three-year starter, she too has seen herself grow as her skill set has evolved. Confidence is a byproduct of that, and something she credits the coaching staff for. Confidence cannot be taught, but it can certainly be built up in the right system.
“Each year I see myself grow in my confidence,” Cesare noted. “I couldn’t do it without my coaches because they push me every season. I know they rely on me, but I rely on them just as much. I try to not look at things from an individual perspective because everything I do, I do it for the team. I try to think about what I can do for them.”
One thing she has done on the field is keep runs off the board, just as much as she puts them on. Cesare is hitting .262 with 17 runs scored this season, but perhaps her bigger contribution comes from the stability she offers at shortstop. Her .971 fielding percentage and 61 putouts are evidence enough to back that claim.
“Defense wins games,” Cesare said. “Coach Mojica tells us that all the time. Some people might not think that but I see it as just as important. Being on the field, the thrill is so much fun. Over the years, I feel like I’ve improved but a lot of the credit goes to the coaches. They’ve helped me so much. Every day, there’s always something to work on.”
That selfless nature has been a key cog in UMHB’s current six-game win streak. In the Crusaders’ national ranking. In their three Top 10 victories. Because the team, especially the older players, never settle. They see the potential for this year’s team. And with it being their last, there seems to be a greater excitement, a greater drive, to go further in this season than the program ever has before.
“I think from the start of this season to now, we’ve really grown as a team,” Cesare said. “Each player has so much potential and I’m so excited to see where it takes us.”