Beginning of the end
Mavs return majority of team for Mort's final season
Colorado Mesa softball coach Kris Mort sold Danni Vallie and Lita Romero on coming to then Mesa State College.
A few years later, the two will be concluding their careers with Mort this season. Mort announced her retirement from coaching after the season to become a full-time athletic administrator at Colorado Mesa.
Romero has known Mort before she was in high school through her dad, the Pueblo Central High School coach, and wanted to play for Mort all along.
“I had exposure to all the RMAC schools, but Mesa stood out to me,” Romero said. “The team is so much more disciplined. I know if I go with coach Mort, she’ll probably be around. Luckily, I made it (before she retires).”
Vallie, who finished high school in Indio, Calif., didn’t know of Mesa until Mort saw her play.
“We ended up talking for two hours,” Vallie said. “She sold me on the phone. I signed blind. I had no idea what it would be like when I came here, but it has worked really well.”
Romero and Vallie came to Mesa as infielders. Romero was a third baseman and Vallie played second.
Both moved to the corner outfield positions. Romero moved to right field her freshman year and Vallie switched by her sophomore year.
“(Romero) has that slapper speed and has really learned how to play the outfield well,” Mort said. “She makes the diving catches. She has a good arm. She knows when to dive and not to dive. I like her work ethic.”
Vallie came to Mesa as a second baseman, but Mort moved her to left field to take advantage of her speed.
“She has run into the fence catching the ball probably more than an outfielder I’ve had,” Mort said. “She knows the game and what I’m thinking. She’s a quiet kid that just plays. She goes hard.”
Vallie will likely move to center field this season to replace Gabriella Parra, who was an all-region and All-RMAC player. Parra hit .401 with eight home runs and 58 RBI.
The Mavericks (23-23) return their entire infield, two outfielders and one pitcher. Mesa is picked to finish fourth in the RMAC in the preseason coaches poll.
“We’re pretty confident, besides the pitcher and one outfielder, the rest are returners so we know how each other play and we’re definitely comfortable with each other,” Vallie said. “That’s really nice going into the season.”
All five starting infielders return this season, catcher Megan Smith, first baseman Shannon McClenahan, second baseman Lisa Pille, shortstop Taylor Gross and third baseman Lauren Cross.
“We have a very solid lineup one through nine,” Mort said. “Defensively we’re very solid. We had a better fielding percentage last year, which means we improved defensively with the hire of Coach (Christina) Weiser. I would like to see us improve our double plays with two juniors at middle infielder.”
That leaves the pitching staff, which lost ace Sara Jordan to graduation. She was 15-13 with a 4.18 ERA and 18 complete games, but pitched with a shoulder that was dislocated twice earlier that school year.
“We equipped ourself to replace Sara (Jordan),” Mort said. “I think we have the talent there, but will they step up and take the game ball with tenacity and bring their share of the load?”
Sophomore Ashley Pulido returns with some experience. She was 5-3 with a 4.07 ERA the past season. She made 20 appearances with 12 starts.
Junior Courtney Maihi is eligible this year after she had to sit out last year after transferring from the University of Northern Colorado.
“She didn’t make her national team in New Zealand without having game,” Mort said. “We’re excited to see what her game personality is because off the field a very nice and genuine person.”
After two years at UNC, she went back to New Zealand for a semester and lost her full-time residence status.
Junior Catherine Floyd transferred from Polk State (Fla.) Community College to be closer to her dad, who lives in Kremmling. She was a junior college All-American with a 0.86 ERA.
“We have yet to see these kids compete in games other than Ashley,” Mort said. “If they can bring some tenacity level with them. They have the speed, movement and the pitches, but 90 percent of pitching is how bad you want to dominate your opponents.”