University of Houston-Victoria student Baylea Wagener has some big shoes to fill.
The sophomore Victoria resident is now pitching for the Jaguars softball team, and while the program is only in its third season, the team went to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Softball National Championships last year.
The team lost 10 seniors last year who were key players responsible for the Jaguars’ success, and Wagener is coming back to the game after being inactive for a season. It all amounts to a lot of pressure on a young player who recently thought she’d be playing for a Division 1 team in Arkansas.
“Originally, I was recruited to pitch NCAA ball in Arkansas, but there was a change in the coaching staff, and I ended up playing outfield,” Wagener said.
A pitcher since she was 8 years old, Wagener made the difficult decision to leave the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark.,in the hopes of finding another school that would let her pitch. While she was looking, she came back to Texas and spent a semester at Galveston College before learning of the new softball program at UHV.
“When you transfer from a school that is a member of the NCAA, there are a lot of rules,” she said. “If I enrolled in another NCAA school, I’d have to sit out for a year, so I couldn’t play again until I was a junior. I got really lucky because UHV belongs to another conference, so I could play right away.”
And that’s exactly what she did. The season opened in mid-February with doubleheaders against Alvin Community College and San Jacinto College. Wagener pitched against both schools, helping the Jaguars defeat San Jacinto and win one game against Alvin. The Jaguars then competed in the Cowtown Classic in Fort Worth, taking second place after losing to Lubbock Christian University in the finals.
The Jaguars also finished the Louisiana State University-Alexandria Invite round robin tournament undefeated Saturday and Sunday. Wagener pitched on Sunday against Alcorn State, a Division I program, giving the Jaguars a 6-3 win.
“These past few weeks have made me really excited about the season,” Wagener said. “When I first got to UHV, I was really nervous because I’m young. We’re a pretty young team compared with last year, so how do you follow that? But this was a great start. It showed us what we could do, and now I feel like I can really establish myself.”
Wagener said the transition to UHV has been beneficial in other ways. She’s enjoying smaller class sizes where the professors get to know their students, unlike larger schools with stadium seating where students are often just a number.
As an athlete who spends countless hours on the road traveling to games or on the practice field, she said the online courses at UHV have been a blessing.
“College is more fun if you can play a sport,” Wagener said. “But it does take a lot of time. That’s why I love the online classes. Basically, I can take my classes on the road.”
Wagener is majoring in psychology and would like to become a therapist specializing in mental illness.
“I’m an athlete, so of course I think physical health is important,” she said. “But I think mental health is even more important. You have to be mentally healthy before you can be physically healthy. I want to help people on a deeper level than just counseling them on their school schedules or graduation plans. Mental illness is genetic. You can’t control it, and that’s helping someone who really needs it.”
Wagener also volunteers as a student mentor at Hopkins Elementary in Victoria and is helping fellow softball players make care packages for soldiers serving in Iraq.
The UHV Outstanding Student is an online feature highlighting the exceptional students who attend the University of Houston-Victoria. To nominate a student, contact UHV Communications Manager Paula Cobler or call 361-570-4350.