By Malcolm Butler, Louisiana Tech Associate Athletic Director/Communications
RUSTON — It has been more than 650 days since the Louisiana Tech softball program practiced or played on its own campus.
That streak finally ended Tuesday afternoon.
Interim head coach Bianca Duran and her 2021 Lady Techsters walked through the left field gate and onto Dr. Billy Bundrick Field for the first time, conducting a two-plus hour practice less than two days before opening the season.
“It was surreal,” said Duran. “The girls were quiet at first. They were taking it all in. We all were. Their hard work these past six months, these past two years, and overcoming so many challenges … to finally be able to compete on campus was really special. They were excited. Then they went to work. They started a new legacy at this stadium today.”
The Lady Techsters took cuts, fielded grounders, and made diving catches in the brand new (plush) FieldTurf that carpets their new playing surface.
And while construction sounds remain as work continues to complete the complex before the March 5 home opener against Tarleton State, the ping of the bat and the pop of the mitt stole the auditory show on Tuesday.
It was a day of firsts.
“It was awesome walking into the new stadium for the first time,” said junior infielder Lindsay Edwards. “Even though there is still construction going on, it was a breath of fresh air. It was like a sigh of relief knowing we now have this place to call home.”
Edwards is just one of three players remaining from the 2019 team that won 45 games, captured both the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles, and competed in the Baton Rouge Regionals. Edwards and her LA Tech teammates played all 24 games on the road during the COVID19-shortened season of 2020.
They basically have been softball nomads since April 25, 2019, when the EF3 tornado ravaged Ruston in the early morning hours. But on Tuesday they got to experience why the wait has been worth it.
“I kept thinking we’ve been through so much adversity, so many challenges and now we get to focus on a good thing … a really big good thing,” said senior utility Zoe Hicks, who was also a member of the 2019 team. “It is awesome. Honestly, it is hard to put into words. We have been through so many obstacles with the tornado and the pandemic and coaching changes, things that have pushed us. Now we have a home. We have a brand new field. We have things that are positive.”
Was it hard to focus on practice during day one of their new field? You bet.
“I honestly kept finding myself thinking about two years ago,” said Edwards. “I kept looking at the new scoreboard. It is so nice, so pretty and so much bigger than the old one. The turf is so fresh and so new. I kept losing focus. I kept picturing the games we are going to play on this new field. It got me really excited.”
“I was standing at first base, and I looked over and saw the football stadium,” said Hicks. “A different view of the football stadium than what we were used to (at the old field). It is just so different. It is so cool and so different. It felt like we got back what we lost plus so much more.”
— Featured photo by Tom Morris