Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

‘Family on me’: Texas softball seniors changed program for better

Skyler Sharp
Senior Estelle Czech pitches during Texas’ game against Houston Christian on Feb. 21, 2024.

“Family on me, family on three.”

They weren’t just words that senior pitcher Estelle Czech said to break out huddles this season, but a reflection of the culture that the Texas softball senior class created throughout their careers.

“This is the closest team we’ve had,” head coach Mike White said. “I think that’s due to the seniors pulling the team together and making sure we’re pulling everything in the right way at the same time.” 

Czech, senior outfielder Bella Dayton, senior infielder Alyssa Washington, and senior designated player Jordyn Whitaker knew what it took to build a winning team. 

From the beginning of the season, the four seniors created an accepting environment, enveloping newer players into the team and helping them grow. 

“Our seniors really helped us mature and not be treated as sophomores or freshmen,” freshman outfielder Kayden Henry said. “We’re one team, we’re one unit. We’re on the same level, in it together, no matter what age or grade we’re in.”

To keep the team on track, the seniors would call separate team meetings without a coach’s request. They set a high standard for the program, whether in the classroom or on the field. 

“It’s much stronger when it’s peer-led as opposed to coach-led,” White said. “They know they had the freedom and the ability to make those meetings themselves.”

With their leadership, the Texas softball family had a great season, finishing with a 55-10 record and making it to the Women’s College World Series.

The group of seniors had been to the WCWS championship series before and were familiar with the intensity of the environment in Oklahoma City. 

“The first day we were (in Oklahoma City), everyone stood up and said their favorite memory from the World Series … and what they learned or what they wanted to tell us underclassmen,” sophomore catcher Reese Atwood said. “Hearing their advice and watching their composure on the field … helps us underclassmen who haven’t been here learn from it.”

The four seniors helped all aspects of the game, keeping the team calm in intense situations across the field.

“It is a big stage, so it gets pretty loud, overwhelming,” infielder Alyssa Washington said. “Just being someone who has been there before, someone they could talk to.”

Even though the seniors had all been to the tournament before, they had all grown as teammates and players. 

In 2019, associate head coach Steve Singleton would watch Whitaker play ball at Cypress Collins Park on the weekend. 

“She came and committed and hit a big home run as a freshman and has been a staple of what we are in the culture of this program ever since,” Singleton said. 

As a freshman, Whitaker was ranked fourth on the team with a .358 average on her way to earning a Big 12 Conference All-Freshman Team selection. 

“It goes by so fast,” Whitaker said to her teammates. “Just enjoy everything, even the moments you don’t think you’re going to enjoy, enjoy it.”

Washington embodied Whitaker’s advice, working hard to get a starting spot in the infield. 

“(Washington) was always willing to soak everything in and learn as much as she could, especially during that first season when she wasn’t on the field,” former teammate Janae Jefferson said. “She was always asking questions and just looking for ways to better herself.” 

Washington didn’t just try to better herself, but her whole team. Her hard work both on and off the field led her to be named the first captain in the history of the program. 

“The moment I was told I would be a Captain, I instantly cried,” Washington said. “I just felt so honored, and it was like a dream come true and it was super surreal.” 

While the captain led the team in the infield, Dayton was a constant force in the outfield. 

Dayton’s former coach at Arizona, Mike Candrea, once described Dayton as a wild stallion — full of spirit and hard to tame. And when Dayton transferred to Texas for the 2022 season, Singleton saw the same fire in her. 

“She came here from a platoon player at Arizona and earned a starting job almost every day,” Singleton said. “It wasn’t until this year that she really solidified that and that same fight, that same grit will always live in this program.”

Dayton’s grit was seen on the field, keeping a fielding percentage of .987, and can be traced back to the lessons her dad taught her when she was younger. 

“It was always perseverance,” Dayton said. “That was our word and he still uses that today. He’s definitely emotional as it is the end of my career and all the success that keeps happening for us and me personally.”

Wearing a blue bow in her hair for her dad after his battle with cancer, Dayton’s family allows her to play the game she wants to play. 

“My family just makes me excited for the experience that I do have,” Dayton said. “No matter what, my family is always there, my teammates are always there, and that makes me be myself and allowed to play the way that I play.”

Another strong personality on the team can usually be found in the circle: Czech. 

“Wild screaming lefty on the field at Garden Acres,” Singleton said. “I don’t even know if she knows I was there but I watched her throw for Jersey Intensity and she was yelling and screaming and slinging.”

Similar to Dayton, Czech didn’t start at Texas but ended up there after her freshman year. Czech pitched in both of the World Series finals, making the WCWS All-Tournament team in 2022.

“You all pushed me to grow as a leader, pitching and in the locker room,” Czech said to her teammates. “We are family and I’m so happy that this program has grown to love each other. I can rely on any single one of you guys.”

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