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Sandoval builds program on heart and dedication

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Roswell softball coach Art Sandoval talke to his young softball team at practice Tuesday. RHS plays Onate at home Saturday. (Submitted Photo)

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Nobody stays on top forever, even when a team is rebuilding. Look for Coyotes softball coach Art Sandoval to learn to bite his lip this season as his young team goes through growing pains. His Lady Coyotes (20-10, 9-3 5A) last year were one bad call away from playing from the 5A championship.

Sandoval must now deal with life without Aaliyah Hunter, Adrianna Horton,  and two All-State performers in Mykaya Olivas and daughter Sheyanne Sandoval. All four athletes have gone on to play softball at the collegiate level.

“We lost those four seniors,” coach Sandoval said.

Youth will be served, for the first time in four years, coach Sandoval will take the field with an eighth-grader in the opening day starting lineup when they face Onate at home on Saturday.

“We’re a young team,” Sandoval said. “We’re going to be rebuilding a bit. We’re going to be scrappy. We’re going to have a couple of horses, right now the horse on the bump (pitching) is going to be Mckinze Tarin; she’s a sophomore. We’ll have a junior pitcher in Cayla Chavez. She’s going to be just fine. She (Chavez) will be playing some left field for us.”

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Also, look for Valaree Manzanares to be in the circle as well, along with Leah Sanchez and Victoria Sandoval to see time on the bump. Coach Sandoval plans to alternate these two between varsity and junior varsity, depending on how the team is playing and needs of the team.

Coach Sandoval, feels likes he will have to try some different things from a strategy standpoint. Last season the team relied on the long ball quite a bit, but with eighth and ninth graders in the lineup, he will try to manufacture runs with an aggressive brand of softball.

“I tell you what right now,” Sandoval said. “This is my 20th year coaching, and I couldn’t be more tickled to death than ever. Two of my coaches were just finishing up with basketball (Rebecca Marrujo, Chris Burrola) and I hired another coach, Andrew Manzanarez. We’re always counting on different people, but right now it’s about everybody. It’s been fun to see everybody developing.”

Sandoval has always enjoyed young players, but this year is particularly more satisfying than in the past season because he has gotten to know his young team personally and is helping develop them with his hands-on approach. Being able to start over again with youthful talent has helped him become a better coach.

Sandoval has 16 players on the roster, the most since 2008. Look for plenty of players to play this year, with an opportunity to grow. To start the season against Onate, look for Valaree Manzanares to start at first base. Nayelli Morales will start at second base, with Isabel Aragon at shortstop. Eighth-grader Alexa Archuleta will play third base. Catching will be Mckinze Tarin, she is also a captain this season. The centerfield position will be manned by returning starter Karissa Mesquita. In left field will be Cayla Chavez and right field will be Alyssa Vasquez.

“I think this is the fastest team I ever had,” Sandoval said. “It’s unbelievable. Mikenzey Patterson is one of the fastest kids on the teams. She runs from home to first base in 2.7 seconds. I think we might be one of the quickest teams I’ve had in a long time. I’ve really enjoyed these kids. The main thing I want to see is an improvement as a team and individually.”

Sandoval recognizes this could be a rebuilding year, and he wants to give all of his players a fair and equal opportunity to grow as an athlete. Sandoval’s goal this season is to stay positive and help his team because he knows his team is only as strong as the weakest link. With a young team, Sandoval is looking for his shortstop to be the quarterback on the team and call out defensive signals.

“For our team to succeed,” Sandoval said, “our players are going to have to help each other out. They are going to have to believe in themselves, each other and their coaches. If we can meet those three criteria, then I think we are going to be fine.”

Sandoval has been the coach at Roswell since 2005. He came over from Dexter. He fell in love with softball because of the speed of the game and how hard his players worked.

One of his favorite mottos is there’s nothing soft about softball. Without baseball, he wonders what his life would have been like. In many ways, Sandoval owes his life to baseball. He went to Eastern New Mexico University because of baseball.

“Coaching the game of softball and working with these young ladies have really changed my life,” Sandoval said. “I’ve learned how to cope and deal with certain individuals in a different way. I think it has made me a better person in general. I tell my athletes, ‘I don’t look at you as girls’, I look at you as athletes.’”

Look for the Lady Coyotes to struggle defensively until they get used to playing together. Not only did they lose two All-Staters, but they lost their middle: Catcher, pitcher, shortstop.

“I have high expectations for every kid who comes out for this program,” Sandoval said. “My program is about heart, dedication, and opportunity. I want to make sure we are giving everyone that dedication and opportunity. It’s going to be a fun year and very exciting.”

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