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Softball: UL’s Lexie Comeaux details how offseason drama devastated team, and how they won anyway

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, May 9, 2018

UL junior catcher Lexie Comeaux has overcome tall odds to help lead the Ragin’ Cajuns into the Sun Belt Conference Tournament this weekend at Lamson Park. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)

The truth is Lexie Comeaux only had one season as a full-time contributor on the field for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

She’s got the memory of her breakthrough red-shirt sophomore campaign a year ago somewhere in her mind, but so much has happened.

Last spring just seems so long ago now.

Yes, that was the season Comeaux answered the biggest question in the program at the time: Who in the world is going to replace two-time All-American catcher Lexie Elkins?

More: Sun Belt Softball Championship scoreboard

No, Comeaux didn’t hit .500 or lead the nation in homers like the other Lexie did, but she was the solution behind the plate at .333 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs in helping the 2017 Cajuns dominate the Sun Belt like never before.

As big as those shoes were to fill, however, that burden doesn’t compare to the pressure Comeaux and the other veterans of the 2018 Cajuns have shouldered this season.

Managing the turmoil

Instead of an offseason of building on her breakout season, Comeaux and her teammates were forced to endure utter chaos in the program.

Their head coach, Michael Lotief, was first placed on leave Oct. 6 and then fired on Nov. 1.

There was no fall season to grow as a team.

More: Sun Belt Softball Team Capsules

Instead there were months of bitterness, finger-pointing, rumors of players transferring and then three key players leaving the program.

“Having the Sun Belt Tournament in our park with our fans behind us, and to be able to win a trophy for them would be huge for us. … Just to silence (the doubters) and shut them up. Oh, I want it so bad.”

Lexie Comeaux

“That was a really, really tough time,” said Comeaux, whose No. 2-seeded Cajuns will begin play in the 2018 Sun Belt Conference Tournament at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at Lamson Park.

“I play it down a lot, because I try not to think about reality and just keep my mind on the game, but that’s probably been the most difficult part.”

As one of the more seasoned members of the team, Comeaux wanted to do what she could to keep the team together, but none of them were prepared for all the uncertainty that ensued.

“I had really good friends leave and really good people and softball players leave,” Comeaux said. “Not only did DJ (Sanders), Alyssa (Denham) and Aleah (Craighton) all leave, but we even went through it with people on the team, second-guessing and people wanting to leave.

“It was really hard, but I never tried to make it my business. I just wanted people to do what was best for them and have respect for what they wanted to do. I never tried to butt in and just tried to be a good teammate and a good friend.”

More: All-Sun Belt Conference Softball

The swing of things

Obviously, it was overshadowed by much bigger issues during that period, but Comeaux’s swing was in trouble at that time as well.

“It was different for me,” Comeaux said. “I was struggling with my swing when Coach Mike left. When he left, so did all of his mechanics and him helping us.”

There was no working on it through the fall. There was no one to get advice from either.

For one, the program was in turmoil. No one’s swing seemed to matter at the time.

And even if it did, no one teaches hitting like Lotief does.

“Kara (Gremillion) and I felt the same way,” Comeaux added. “We didn’t really know what to do with our swings, because we hadn’t hit like we did in high school in three-plus years.”

Three weeks later, Gerry Glasco was named as Lotief’s replacement.

More: Ellyson a gem on the mound for Cajuns

When practice began in January, the Lexie Comeaux that Glasco saw in scrimmages wasn’t the same hitter Lotief coached the season before.

“For me, it was more a helpless feeling,” Comeaux explained. “I didn’t know how to swing the bat. It was like me having to worry about my mechanics, but when you’re playing the game, you can’t worry about mechanics. But my mechanics were off.  It took a lot of work to get back to where my swing was in high school.”

As a result, Comeaux lost her starting spot at the beginning of the season to true freshman Caitlin Garcia.

“I understood and I couldn’t really be mad,” Comeaux said. “We had a preseason in January where we had like 12 scrimmages and I didn’t perform very well and Caitlin Garcia blew me out of the water.”

If Comeaux wasn’t already a team leader, she became one at that point.

“I want the best player on the field and at that time, it wasn’t me,” she said. “I had enough respect for the player next to me, so I knew I had to be the best teammate I could be at the time. I knew she was a freshman and I had some experience, so I knew there was going to be a time when I got an opportunity.

“I was more frustrated with myself, because I wasn’t performing as well as I wanted to, but that’s the game. That happens sometimes.”

More: Mom knew best — Boswell turns into UL’s secret weapon

From the beginning, Glasco appreciated Comeaux’s approach.

“She’s been really good,” he said. “Her leadership has been critical for us all season. She’s always positive in her thoughts and her actions.”

But he wasn’t quite sure how to help her swing. That’s when he leaned on former Cajun standout Shellie Landry.

“I assumed something happened in the fall with her swing, but I didn’t really know,” Glasco said. “I didn’t know anything about how the mechanics were being taught here, but I knew Shellie did.”

More: Shellie Landry had intensity of coach, even before graduating

From the archives: Cancer battle strengthens Landry family’s bond

‘It’s still a grind’

Somehow, through all the obstacles, Comeaux survived.

“If there’s one thing I learned from Coach Mike, he definitely taught me about the mental side of the game,” Comeaux said. “So whatever I was working with, just go up there and believe I’m the best. So I had to just tell myself, ‘OK, you’re the best. You’re the best hitter on the team. Go get this hit.’ That’s what I had to lean on in my first 30 at-bats or so.”

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Yes, as she suspected, that opportunity came and Comeaux responded.

No, she still isn’t thrilled with the results, but Comeaux is third on the team in hitting at .298 with four homers and 26 RBIs.

“Lexie really deserves a lot of credit,” Glasco said. “Earlier in the season, she was really struggling to hit anything above the belt, but she’s totally changed her swing plane. That’s really hard to do in the middle of the season. And she’s really become one of our most consistent hitters.”

In addition to her swing, Comeaux has also battled a bad arm throughout the season, making it tough to perform to her optimal level as a catcher.

“Last year, I hurt my arm in preseason,” Comeaux explained. “Because I didn’t know I was going to catch, it got overused. After last season, it caught up to me. It was real tight and killing me most of the time.”

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Combine that with an agonizing offseason, and Comeaux is one of many fatigued players heading into this weekend’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

“It’s still a grind,” she said. “It’s a grind every time we get on the field.”

But despite all the obstacles, something keeps Comeaux going. Something keeps her motivated.

There’s a desire to do whatever it takes to keep up the program’s winning tradition Comeaux and her fellow team leaders inherited.

They’ve been asked to overcome controversy no previous team dreamed of facing, but the alternative is unthinkable.

More: Midseason report: Cajuns fine, but striving for better

“Now it just feels like a lot of pressure, not only to keep our teammates up but for the fans and for the people who did decide to leave and the doubters and the haters,” Comeaux said. “I don’t really think about it when we’re playing. But off the field, I think about it often.

“I just feel a lot of pressure, needing to keep this team together and maintaining the program’s tradition. That’s been a big part of the grind for me, Kelli (Martinez) and Kara.”

Mission accomplished

Somehow the Cajuns (36-13, 21-6) finished just one win away from being regular season Sun Belt champions.

One measly win.

In Comeaux’s mind anyway, that frustration only adds to the motivation of this weekend’s Sun Belt Tournament.

“It’s so important,” Comeaux said. “I was just talking to Kara earlier during hitting. I was like, ‘We’re going to win. I’m just trying to speak it into existence and make us believe it.’ A lot of the time, it’s easy for all the doubters to get in our head.

“But this is so important for us, because we know we should have won conference regular season, so having the Sun Belt Tournament in our park with our fans behind us, and to be able to win a trophy for them would be huge for us. It’s just so important for me and the seniors, because they deserve it. Just to silence everybody and shut them up. Oh, I want it so bad.”

More: Ellyson flourishes with simple approach

Yes, it’s a cliché we’ve all heard a bunch over the years, but if ever a group of leaders deserves the ball to bounce their way, it’s Comeaux and the other leaders on this fragile team.

But take a deep breath, ladies.

Sure, they want to win this tournament. Sure, they want to advance to an NCAA Super Regional and perhaps even further.

But no matter what happens this weekend, it’s mission accomplished for this group.

Thanks to the tall task they felt forced to accept and somehow met, the program’s winning tradition stands strong.

Against some pretty incredible odds.