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Softball: UL coach Lotief treasures turbulent season

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, May 5, 2015



UL head softball coach Michael Lotief, shown here celebrating a Cajun home run during a home win, is entering the stretch drive on a season he’d both like to forget and that he also treasures.(Photo: Paul Kieu/The Advertiser)



It’s not about favoring one team or another, or even the group of stars over a different era.

UL softball coach Michael Lotief has just thought more about the day when his coaching career is going to end over the past couple of seasons than ever before.

Consequently, when asked at Monday’s weekly UL softball press luncheon if this year’s postseason run is an extra special one for Lotief, he didn’t run from the comparison.

Oh, he paused.

In fact, he paused long enough for another question to be asked.

The break, however, was to regain his composure to be able to speak clearly enough to answer the question.

“It does (mean more),” Lotief said. “It surely does.”

In no way was he saying that he adores the players on his 2015 team more than the 2004 squad, or any other group during his 15-year stint. Fearing that false conclusion is exactly the reason why most coaches avoid comparing seasons and teams.

In this case, it was about what this year’s team has overcome to remain among the nation’s top 10.

It’s about what he’s missed. It’s about what he hasn’t missed. It’s about what he probably should have missed.

It’s about the thoughts that have entered his mind as anyone contemplates their career and their health, and understands how one conflicts with the other.

It’s about all the help and support he’s received from the Ragin’ Cajun softball community, the area as a whole, as well as the college softball circles across the country.

It’s about all of those things – troubling to triumphant – all bundled together in one complex season.

“When you’re old and tired and you know your opportunities are numbered,” Lotief said. “You appreciate it.”

Indeed, this season has been both heart-warming and agonizing for Lotief.

When you’re an old-school coach like Lotief, being in a hospital bed while your team travels to San Marcos, Texas to battle Texas State on March 28-29 just rips your heart out.

When the team travels to the Great Northwest to play No. 2 Oregon and your physical condition after the next surgery on your esophagus keeps you home because flying isn’t an option and the feeding tube just won’t allow that long of a trip anyway, it drives a coach like Lotief crazy.

Believe me, he considered every possible alternative to make that trip with the team. The trip would have done tremendous damage physically, but in Lotief’s mind, not making it did plenty of damage psychologically.

Even if it’s not true, a coach in that situation fears that he’s letting his team down.

Then comes this weekend.

Lotief plans on being there for the Cajuns’ first game in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament – ironically in San Marcos, Texas again – but then he’ll have to leave the team again.

On Friday, Lotief will be in Houston undergoing the most important surgery of the entire process to fix his damaged esophagus.

It’s something that’s got to be done, and in his mind now.

During the season, you ask?

In Lotief’s mind, this weekend sure beats the following weekend for the NCAA Regions, or the following weekend potentially for Super Regionals and certainly better than the next week if the Cajuns return to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series.

If it was possible for him to put his team above his health, he would. The truth is he already has, many times.

While the team was in San Marcos or in Oregon without him, he may have been back home, but he was communicating with his team. His input still made it to the team.

He was back at practice sooner than most would have been. And when he wasn’t there, they knew what he was thinking.

“He would send texts to the team telling them what to do,” senior pitcher Jordan Wallace laughed.

No one knows how many more seasons Lotief will be the head coach at UL. No one knows how many more Sun Belt Conference Tournaments he’ll prepare for.

That’s why everything that Lotief and his team have experienced this season indeed has been extra special.

Wallace said there have been several times during the season where she would be brought to the brink of tears during everyday softball activities – reactions that never took place during a “normal season.”

Only those inside the lockerroom know it, but there truly appears to be a special bond – a unique determination – with this group, perhaps more than any other team in the Lotief era.

Which could make this postseason beyond compare.