Softball: Dalton feels right at home with Cajuns - Alfred Lamson? Lamson Park?
Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, February 22, 2018
When former UL softball coach Michael Lotief was fired on Nov. 1, it was a huge jolt to everyone involved with the Ragin’ Cajun softball program.
Imagine, though, how troubling the news was for Alissa Dalton.
The sophomore had just transferred from two-time national champion Oklahoma, looking for a place to feel more comfortable.
She arrived in Lafayette in late July, convinced she had found the program and the community that allowed her to feel at home again.
Incredibly, just a few months into the process and suddenly there’s no head coach, controversy ensues and uncertainty reigns.
“I was kind of frustrated at first,” said Dalton, whose No. 15-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns will open the Louisiana Classics Tournament against Southeastern at 4 p.m. Thursday at Lamson Park.
“I was like, ‘OK, I finally found my fit and now this is going to all hit.’”
Once the initial sting began to wear off, however, Dalton realized the reasons she chose to transfer to UL hadn’t actually gone anywhere.
“I’m from Houston,” Dalton explained. “I love the Southern feel. I love the Southern hospitality. Even being at Oklahoma, which is a neighboring state to Texas, people treat you differently than they do in the South.
“I was looking for a place even outside of softball that I was happy and it felt like home. Also, I loved the campus (at UL) and the school itself.”
Amazingly, another big recruit tool for the Cajuns in Dalton’s case was the trees. That’s right, the trees.
“I loved the trees,” she laughed. “That was a big thing for me. All the big oak trees everywhere, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
And although several of her new teammates transferred out before the coaching controversy simmered down, Dalton still enjoyed her teammates.
“I stayed with the girls (during visit) and how welcoming and accepting they are of everything was big for me,” Dalton said. “It’s a judgment-free zone here. Everybody’s free to be their own person and be diverse. That was a big part of me coming here.”
In fact, the strength of that team sisterhood only grew during the turbulent fall and actually further convinced Dalton she had made the right decision to move to Lafayette.
“But at the same time, seeing how every girl here handles adversity and when a situation does happen instead of separating and looking outward, we all come in and get closer and deal with it,” she said. “I think it kind of made me fall in love with the program all over again.
“Now I have a stronger bond with them than I could ever imagine. With all of those hectic things going on, it brought us together in the end.”
The next big moment for Dalton was learning that All-American shortstop DJ Sanders was one of the teammates who chose to leave. That meant Dalton wouldn’t be playing first or second base, but her favorite spot at shortstop.
“That made it real,” Dalton remembered. “That made it feel like the season’s right here.”
It also elevated Dalton’s status on the squad before she ever saw a pitch in a Ragin’ Cajuns uniform.
“I was excited to compete with DJ at short while she was here," she said. "When she came and told us, ‘Hey y’all, I’m going to Oregon.’ We all have an Oregon shirt. We all support her and love her, but at the same time I sat down with Kelli and she was like, ‘You have the step up. We need you.’
“She (Martinez, who played travel ball with Dalton in high school) knows how I am on the field. I’m very vocal. I’m very out there and not shy at all. She talked about directly that energy in the right way, being a positive leader, because now you’re in a position where you have to be a leader.”
Despite playing the same position, Dalton said she’s never tried to truly replace Sanders’ skill set at shortstop.
“She’s a bomb power hitter,” said Dalton, who is leading UL at .455 with a homer and 10 RBIs so far this season. “She hits massive home runs. Of course, I would love to do that every at-bat like she does, but at the same time I do have the tools to bunt, slap, hit.
“Knowing I’m a different type of player than DJ was more my goal versus trying to hold myself to a standard of who DJ is.”
New UL coach Gerry Glasco, though, has quickly learned Dalton is a special talent in her own right.
“She’s just a great player,” Glasco said. “I’ve said all along — and I’ve coached some really good players at Georgia and Texas A&M, and in the pro leagues, and — Alissa Dalton is one of those really special talents that just plays at a high level of confidence. We’re going to see a lot of special things by her these next three years.”
The next step in Dalton’s comfort level returning was seeing the new coaching staff go to work in January.
“I was really concerned that we had missed time in the fall, but the coaches have done an amazing job,” Dalton said. “Everything was at high speed. In the first few weeks, we pretty much fit an entire fall in that.
“Honestly, our team is farther along now than I ever thought we could be.”
And the final step was playing at Lamson Park the last two weekends in front of UL’s fans.
She had played in front of big crowds at Oklahoma, where she hit .326 with eight doubles, a homer and 18 RBIs as a freshman last season.
But Lamson Park was different.
“Completely different,” she said. “Fans didn’t cook for us. Fans didn’t make little goodie bags for us — cookies with chocolate-covered strawberries and put our numbers on the bag. That’s never been a thing at Oklahoma.
“Yeah, there was always people there, because they did win and it is a big school, but here it’s like you’re personal with the crowd. Here I can look in the stands and be like, ‘Hey, he’s the one that cooked gumbo for us the other day, ‘What’s up?’ ”
So Dalton’s mind was made up. UL is indeed the place for her.
She’s also not convinced it’s going to take very long for the Cajuns to be making a run at Oklahoma City again.
“I think this team handles adversity getting knocked down and getting right back up throwing punches like no other,” she said. “I’ve never met a tougher team than this team.”
Louisiana Classics Softball
(At Lamson Park)
UL vs. Southeastern, 4 p.m.
UL vs North Florida, 5 p.m.
UL vs. North Florida, 2 p.m.
UL vs. UMBC, 7 p.m.
UL vs. Memphis, 11:30 a.m.