Not long after holding tryouts, Tommy Hernandez asked his club softball team if they wanted to be a "fun-petitive" program or one that wants to win its league.
“Everyone wants to treat it as if we were a Division I, D-II program, a legit program, so we run a pretty tight ship when it comes to attending practices and all that,” said Hernandez, who is starting his first full year as the team's skipper.
He took over last season when the Northern Arizona University Jacks were sitting at 0-6. They ended up finishing with an 8-10 record for a second straight year.
Before Hernandez became the skipper, Betty Dean was at the helm, but she was splitting her time managing both the Jacks and the Northland Prep Spartans varsity ballclub.
“They were 0-6, but it was just too hard for her to do,” Hernandez said.
So he and Dean got to talking.
“She did a lot with the team. She got them uniforms and got the ball rolling for them. I worked a lot with her through girls softball Little League, so we talked and she asked if I was interested, and it kinda took off from there," Hernandez said.
Last year's resurgent finish was enough to make a statement that players heard. This season, Hernandez said, about 42 women came out for tryouts, a year after about 20 showed up for a chance at making the team.
Hernandez had some returners come back, including pitcher Ottum Jones. And a few faces familiar to the city of Flagstaff showed up on the diamond as well.
This year, former Flagstaff Eagles ballplayer Monica Encinas came aboard as well as former Coconino Panthers player Taylor Garcia. Brianna Betoney, another former Eagles softball player, was in the dugout for the team last season.
"Getting some locals in there is awesome," Hernandez said.
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Hernandez said he gets a lot of talent coming to his team that wanted to take advantage of scholarships through Northern Arizona that come outside of athletics.
“The way I look at it is this gives these girls who are definitely good enough to play at the next level an opportunity to take their softball career on at NAU, because they are definitely good enough and it’s hard to pass up a four-year scholarship for a two-year softball scholarship," he said.
It's also a way for softball to continue to grow in a community that has seen success at the sport, especially at the high school-aged level.
The Coconino girls are nearly almost always a team in the postseason, and Flagstaff has been a tough team to beat in the Grand Canyon Region over the years.
In fact, the Jacks play games at Coconino's field.
“(Panthers manager) Kimberly Dennis has been awesome with us,” Hernandez said.
And since the season is about to start for the Jacks, they sometimes go down to areas such as Camp Verde to avoid the cold and having games and practices snowed out.
One thing Hernandez said he knew he had to do upon taking over the program was to make it more organized. He set up clinics to raise funds and got more involved with the community of Flagstaff and those in the surrounding northern Arizona area.
Hernandez hopes it all adds up to more runs scored, more strikeouts recorded and more tallies in the win column.
“I am super excited about this season and I think we could win our league and go to Georgia for nationals," he said.
With a good mix of power and speed in the order to go with a few strong arms in the circle, he has a good reason to think they should be a force in 2020.
“I feel very confident we have the depth to make this happen," Hernandez said. "We have several girls who are versatile and can play and do what we need to win.”
The Jacks were at a scrimmage on Saturday for a doubleheader against South Mountain Community College. They have another scrimmage slated for Jan. 28 at Mesa Community College and will start the regular season in February.
Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.