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- Rachel Williams never planned on playing softball again. Not after she left the Tarleton State program in the fall of 2019. At that point, the Lorena, Texas native had aspirations of a career in occupational therapy. Now, she is pursuing a master’s degree in sports administration, aiming at going the coaching route. And she is back on a collegiate softball team. Something drew her back to the sport. UMHB is awfully glad for that.
Because for much of this season, Williams has been one of the Cru’s most reliable options in the circle. She has fired more innings (85.2) than any other pitcher on the staff, thrown six complete games, and has an impressive 12-2 record to go along with it.
“My plan was actually to go into the healthcare field, but I decided to go into the teaching/coaching field last spring,” recalls Williams. “After I decided that, I went out on a limb and emailed Coach Mojica. She told me they were needing another pitcher and I knew the catcher at the time [Tyeann Johnson] as well.
“So I texted Tyeann and said, ‘I think I’m going to come to UMHB. Let’s start throwing over the summer and see if I can get back in shape at least before I make any final decisions.’ I would see how the fall went and depending on that, would go into the spring season. Here I am. But I didn’t have any intentions of coming back to play.”
And just like that she was back on a college roster. But there was still an adjustment that came with stepping back into game situations with batters at the plate in a competitive setting. It was something Williams had not done since May 10, 2019, when she threw 0.2 of an inning for Tarleton State in her final appearance of the season.
“I came and I was a little nervous,” Williams said. “I didn’t know how the girls were going to take it, especially having not played, and I didn’t know how I was going to take it either. But everybody was so welcoming. We got on the field and went to work in the fall. When the spring came around, we picked up exactly where we left off.”
As Williams regained her rhythm in the circle, UMHB got off to a fast start, going on an 11-game win streak that began two weeks into the season. Since that point, the Crusaders have ascended to a No, 12 national ranking by the NFCA, with a slew of notable victories that boost their NCAA Tournament resume.
In perhaps the most impactful of those victories, UMHB took down then-No. 1 Texas Lutheran on March 16, handing TLU its fourth loss of the year. In the circle for that entire 3-1 win was Williams, who limited the Bulldog lineup to just five hits, a walk and a run in seven innings of tireless work.
“As a team, we had nothing to lose,” Williams said. “We had high energy, even coming off that first loss. We knew we had what it took to beat them.”
Two weeks later, she handed ETBU its first shutout loss of the season, holding the seventh-ranked Tigers scoreless in yet another complete game effort.
This will be the only season she pitches with UMHB. But even in limited time within the program, she has worked to make it a memorable span of time. Adding to it is the fact that family and friends often make the trip to Dee Dillon Field to see her pitch. After all, she is essentially in her own backyard, just over 30 miles away from her hometown of Lorena, where she was a two-time all-state selection. This sort of experience has been what she had in mind when thoughts of a return to softball began arising.
“It’s been nice to be a lot closer to home,” Williams noted. “Being able to have that support from family and friends has been great. We played plenty of playoff games at UMHB in high school. So being familiar with the area, and the field, made it easier coming in.”
It is well-documented how important the connection between a pitcher and catcher is. Communication is vital, and miscommunication can quickly hurt the entire team. Those bonds are often formed over several years, but interestingly enough, it has been two transfers-Williams and catcher Blakely Niles-who have combined for several strong showings in 2022.
“Blakely has done a great job coming in this year,” Williams said. “She knows all of our pitchers. She’s learned all of us. Coach Mojica has confidence in her to let her call pitches at times. I know Blakely will call entire games for me. We work well together.”
Watching Mojica call the pitches, amongst the other multitude of tasks she and assistant coach Leah Guest handle on a day-to-day basis is something that Williams, being a future coach, has picked up on. Seeing the way they coach has allowed her to take away tips and advice firsthand, growing as both a current player and future coach simultaneously.
“I definitely take different coaching tips and advice that they say and do everyday,” Williams added. “They’ve been a great help through this whole process as well, in just motivating me and talking through which career path I should go because I was between college and high school. Seeing both of their coaching styles and learning from them has definitely helped me and I will take away a lot from them and what I’ve learned this year.”
But that year is not over yet. The Cru has two ASC series remaining on the regular season schedule prior to the ASC Tournament. And if UMHB can continue its momentum in the conference tournament, the Crusaders have a chance at an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 2008.
The success has been no surprise for Williams. Even in her first year, she and the team’s other transfers have been immediately accepted. Naturally, that plays into a strong team chemistry that is seen each weekend on the field.
“Even the returners from last year and years in the past have said that this team is different,” Williams said. “The chemistry is different. Everything flows together. We’re a family.”