BY BRIAN BESCH
"I have no idea what I'm getting myself into and that's OK with me."
Christina Jaques wasn't sure of everything she accepted when taking the head softball position at Livingston High School. She has not seen film of her new team, nor is she familiar with the city. What she is sure of is the game of softball and her passion for teaching the sport.
The new coach was a catcher through high school and a two-time All-American shortstop at Belhaven University. Just a few weeks ago, she was in Chicago playing professionally.
After a decorated career at the Jackson, Mississippi school, Jacques began coaching the sport just minutes away at Millsaps College.
She spent the last two years back in Texas, transforming Hardin-Jefferson from a school with little history of winning into a playoff program.
"I am so excited to be here," Jaques said to an audience of players and parents Monday at DeWalt Fieldhouse. "This is a big challenge for me, which is fun. Hardin-Jefferson had only ever won a couple of games here or there throughout their seasons, so going into that was hard. Coming here, there is a whole lot more to work with and that is outstanding to me. I am aggressive, I want to win, and senior or freshman does not matter to me. I want everyone to unite and be on the same page from junior varsity to varsity and be in sync all the way through."
The Lady Lions did not find much success last season, but Jaques feels as though she has more to weapons at her disposal now than ever.
"I also worked with the JV (at Hardin Jefferson) last year, who went 7-0 and most never had played softball before. I literally went through the high school trying to figure out who would play. They all loved it and hopefully will play next year. Coming from that to here for something that is already established is great. As far as playing, everything is open to me. If you're getting the job done, you are playing. I think everyone has a role on the team and that is big for me. Without somebody doing a job, it is a lot harder to get it done. Livingston is in a bigger district, a harder district, and that is something to work toward right there. We are moving forward and it is a fresh slate for everyone. I don't know anyone, but I hear there is a lot of talent here. Some days they may hate practice, but if we practice that much harder, when it comes to a game it should not be that hard. There are a bunch of tough teams in the district but it does not matter."
Jaques encouraged her players not in a softball league to participate in another sport for the fall. The idea is to stay in shape and ready to go in the spring.
"Some of the things that we did at Hardin-Jefferson, I don't see a lot of in high school. We would steal third, fake bunt and use draw plays. It is a lot slower in high school than what I was used to, but the girls really liked it. You may play a position you have never played before, but if it fits the best, that is what we're going to go with. You may not start at the position you want, but I think someone can work anywhere. I had a girl who was an incoming shortstop last year as a freshman and I told her she is going to work somewhere else. She was the defensive player of the year at second base. She did great and she wouldn't go back now. She will probably go to college and play. But, it is more than about softball. I care about what you do in the classroom and all around about you as a person. In the classroom and with grades, I cannot use you if you don't pass. Working hard should be something that you just want to do. You are held to a different standard than everyone else. If I set the bar low and you reach it, we didn't get very far, so the bar is set high from the beginning."
Jaques told parents the more positive they were, the program would function better.
"You may not like every call I make or that your child isn't playing, but the more we stay positive, the more it pushes the kids. I have had a passion for softball since I played. What I have been taught I want to teach kids. I want them to have a passion for the game, fall in love with it, and go beyond to do something with it."
After graduating from Bridge City High School in 2007, the new coach went to Belhaven University to play softball and volleyball. Coaching at the Division III level for a year, she returned to high school when an athletic director she knew phoned to ask what it would take to get her to Sour Lake.
"This will be bigger and a different challenge, and I'm always up for something that will push me and the girls toward something. Hardin-Jefferson had never won before. They had talent, but were never really pushed to use that talent. A little bit of structure and a whole lot of believing in them to where they could believe in themselves is what it took. After winning a couple of big games that they had never won and had always been beat, it kind of put in their head that if they buy into what I'm trying to give them, maybe something will happen along the way. It's a tough district and they went from winning nothing to making school history. We finished third in the first year and second this past season. They have a lot to build on and I hope I can use what I have done there to bring to this program."
Jaques knows she is entering another challenging district with many good teams, but she plans to be one of them. Her hope is to guide the team to a point that the opposing school doesn't matter.
"We will bring a game to them. I do a little bit of everything, the situational stuff I'm big on if there are people in scoring position, we're getting them in some sort of way. Whether that's hitting behind or squeezing, I want to be really aggressive. The girls are asking me if we're going to steal and do other things, and I think they have no idea (how much they will). Once we do a lot of hit and run and stuff like that, I hope my energy will feed into them."