Photo of Izzy Gutierrez by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
BELTON-As a high school star in Belton, Izzy Gutierrez had a number of college offers come her way. And she considered those offers, but in the back of her head, always knew where she would end up.
“It was always home for me,” Gutierrez said of UMHB in a recent interview. “I looked at other places softball-wise, but knew D3 gave me the best chance to play softball and do nursing school. I loved the coaches immediately when I met them. I committed here the summer before my junior year.”
Fast forward six years. As a senior, she knows the end of her college career is approaching, and simultaneously, Gutierrez is in the midst of a breakout campaign. Her 31 hits ranks No. 1 on the roster, as does the .383 batting average. She is one of just three Crusaders to have played in all 27 games this season, and is tied for the team lead with 15 runs batted in.
There is no doubt about it. On a roster loaded with offensive talent, the Belton native–the senior who grew up minutes away from UMHB’s campus–is leading the charge.
“When I was at Belton, the softball team was full of a lot of talent,” Gutierrez recalls. “Being around that many talented people and having to push to be in the starting lineup made me a better player. The competition level, especially with us being a 6A school, was absolutely amazing and helped me get here.”
Hitting streaks, like Gutierrez’s 12-game spurt a month ago, are often credited to more reps in the batting cage, or a string of favorable pitching opposition. By and large, breakout seasons as a whole can be generally attributed to a technical change in plate approach or swing.
But in Gutierrez’s case, this recent string of success on the diamond can be chalked up to her massive workload in nursing school…in a sort of roundabout way.
“I think a lot of it has to do with my schedule being so busy with nursing school,” Gutierrez said. “I don’t really have a lot of free time, so I think when I come out here, it is for the pure enjoyment of the game. Since it’s my last year, I just want to have the most fun that I can.
“With all of those other things going on, I’m not as stressed at the plate, if that makes sense. And I just want to do as much as I can for the team before I leave it.”
For as long as softball has been in her life, a goal and passion to pursue a career in nursing has been present as well. Her grandmother and mother both graduated from the university’s famed nursing school, and she has followed that path in her own journey. But with an added commitment on top of that: playing collegiate softball.
“I will say, it was a little difficult because every nursing student before me when I’ve been here has quit before they’ve gotten to this point,” Gutierrez said. “So I never got to see how people juggle with it. But I think having a team that has supported me, and my mom as well [has helped]. My mom always told me, If I can have a kid and a full-time job and go through nursing school, you can play softball and go through nursing school.”
She has found a way to pursue both passions simultaneously. But sacrifice and a demanding schedule have come along with it.
“I come to practice, then go to clinical right after, and after clinical, I sleep until practice. I do that over and over again until we play.”
But she knows she is not alone in navigating a schedule that can make for hectic days during the four-month season. Support from both her teammates and family have kept her pushing forwards as she continues to be a key part of the Crusader softball program.
“One thing that really helps me is whenever I’m leaving practice early, the team makes it a habit to tell me good luck and have a good night while they’re still practicing. That love from the team means everything, as well as support from my family.”
The confidence that Gutierrez now plays with, the confidence that has helped make her nearly unstoppable at the plate throughout the course of this season, was not always present. But just as her success on the diamond has built year after year, starting a mile down the road at Belton High and now transferring to UMHB, her confidence has also grown.
“I had some amazing coaches who helped me to see how good of a player I was because I always struggled with having confidence when it came to softball,” Gutierrez notes. “I’m very grateful for all those coaches who helped me to see that in myself.”
Now Gutierrez is looking into the closing chapter of her softball career. She does not quite believe it, and yet knows it is inevitable. But rather than focusing too much on the ending, UMHB’s leading hitter is keeping her mindset trained on the part of the story still being written.
This season is far from over for the Cru, who enter Friday’s doubleheader at UTD tied for first place in the ASC, and every opportunity Gutierrez has to step onto the field, she considers a blessing.
“I’m definitely in denial that this is my last season,” she said. “I’ll refuse to believe it until I take my cleats off that last time. But I try to make it a habit to thank God for every opportunity I get on this field. When I start to have a bad practice or feel exhausted, I remember that I only have so many more times left on this field. It truly is a blessing.”