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2019 Hall of Fame Inductees by Dan McDonald

Dan McDonald   danmcdonald@cox.net

Bret Garnett-Ashley Rhoney
Jeff Hennessy-Leigh Hennessy
Charles Lancon 
Jose Alvarez 
Ike Taylor
Priscilla Lima
Kathy Morton
Stephanie DeFeo  

* * * * * *
Bret Garnett-Ashley Rhoney

Few UL athletes or teams have ever achieved a No. 1 ranking nationally in their respective sport.


Then again, few student-athletes ever accomplished what Bret Garnett and Ashley Rhoney did on the tennis courts during their Ragin’ Cajun careers.

 

The only All-American doubles team in the history of the program, Garnett and Rhoney were ranked No. 1 nationally by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) during the 1987 season. They also reached as high as a No. 2 ranking as juniors in 1988 when they led the Cajuns to as high as a No. 15 team national ranking and the No. 18 spot at the end of that season.

 

Both also earned All-American honors in doubles those two years, one year after Garnett was an All-American singles player in 1986 – all of which came as little surprise to former Cajun tennis coach Gary Albertine.

 

“I knew when they decided to attend UL that we had young men of great character along with being excellent tennis players,” said Albertine, the Cajun men’s coach for eight years from 1981-88. “I had no idea that they would make such an impact on our tennis team and the entire Lafayette community. They became All-Americans in every sense of the word.”

 

As a team, UL reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament during that 1988 season, still the only time the Cajuns have won an NCAA match. They accomplished that with a team almost entirely made up of players from the South and Southeast, most notably the Hickory, N.C., native Rhoney and the Columbia, S.C., native Garnett.

 

Rhoney’s still in Lafayette, serving as tennis professional at River Ranch, while in an ultimate irony Garnett is living in Rhoney’s hometown and is director of tennis at Lake Hickory Country Club.

 

“I took Ashley’s old job,” Garnett said at a 2005 team reunion.

 

“It really is a small world,” Albertine said.

 

The tennis world knew well of the Garnett-Rhoney combination during their playing careers, one that moved on to the professional level. The duo reached at least the third round of doubles at all four Grand Slam events – Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the French Open and the Australian Open – and advanced to the Australian Open quarterfinals in 1993. During their doubles career, that pairing defeated No. 1-ranked teams no fewer than 15 times.

 

Garnett played longer in the professional ranks, competing in over 200 tournaments and 20 Grand Slam events over seven years. Rhoney played professionally for four years before going into coaching, and coached Lafayette native Chanda Rubin for much of her Hall of Fame career that saw her rise as high as No. 4 in the world.

 

But it was their play at Cajun Courts that earned them inclusion into the 2019 Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame class, a group that will be honored during this week’s Homecoming activities. Induction ceremonies are at 6 p.m. Friday at the Stadium Club at Russo Park, and the honorees will also be recognized during halftime of Saturday’s 4 p.m. Homecoming football game against Texas State.

 

The duo reached the NCAA quarterfinals in back-to-back seasons and won the All-American Championships as a team in 1988 after making the semifinals one year earlier.

 

“Those guys never took a day off,” said former teammate Curtis Hollinger, now a Lafayette-based attorney. “Anyone who watched them play at UL knew that their game was unique, and big enough to put them in the class of the nation’s elite. They are the gold standard by which Ragin’ Cajun tennis greatness is measured.”

 

 Jeff Hennessy-Leigh Hennessy

Successful father-daughter combinations are rare in collegiate athletics, and even more rare on a world-wide athletic stage.

 

Then again, there haven’t been very many father-daughter combinations in any sport like Jeff and Leigh Hennessy were in the sport of trampoline.

 

The elder Hennessy, who passed away in 2015 at age 85, served for 28 years on the UL physical education faculty. In 17 of those years, he did double-duty in serving as the head coach of the U.S. Trampoline Team, coaching more trampoline and “double-tram” world and national champions than any person in that program’s history.

 

His star pupil? That would have been Leigh, a two-time world champion and a 10-time U.S. champion during her competitive career.

 

Even though trampoline and gymnastics were not “official” parts of the Ragin’ Cajun athletic program for much of their careers, that didn’t stop the duo from making the Ragin’ Cajuns well-known across the country and around the world in those sports’ circles.

 

“They traveled the world with the U.S. teams, taking part in competitions, but they were always acting as ambassadors for the university,” said Dr. Mark Robson, a 1984 UL graduate who also happens to be Leigh’s husband. “Along the way, they brought glory to the university by consistently winning competitions, and Leigh gained recognition as the world’s most accomplished female trampolinist.”

 

That’s no idle boast. The younger Hennessy has already been inducted into the World Acrobatics Society Hall of Fame in 2005 and an even-more-prestigious USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame honoring two years later. She joined her father in the latter after he was inducted in 1996, four years after he was selected for the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1992.

 

Both receive another Hall of Fame honor this week when they are in the induction class for the 2019 Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame, as part of a group that will be honored during this week’s Homecoming activities. Induction ceremonies are at 6 p.m. Friday at the Stadium Club at Russo Park, and the honorees will also be recognized during halftime of Saturday’s 4 p.m. Homecoming football game against Texas State.

 

Jeff’s U.S. gymnastics and trampoline teams won nine world titles between 1964-80, and he also coached a U.S. squad that became the first to compete in the Soviet Union in 1974. In the collegiate ranks, his then-USL team went undefeated for two seasons (1960-61), won 12 straight national AAU Trampoline team titles from 1964-75 and added three more from 1979-81, and won the NAIA national title in 1969. Among the athletes the Ancon, Panama, native coached in that time was UL student and 1988 Miss America Judith Ford – who used her trampoline skills in that pageant’s talent competition.

 

During the latter part of those years, daughter Leigh became one of the world’s best in her discipline. While a student, Hennessy – among the first females ever to earn a UL athletic scholarship – was a five-time AAU All-American and the Southern AAU Athlete of the Year in 1978 before earning her degree in 1980.

 

That same year, Leigh won the second of her world trampoline titles, having won the first as a Cajun freshman in 1976. She represented the U.S. in five different World Championships between 1976 and 1994, and won an unprecedented 10 U.S. women’s titles in her career – still the most of any American woman.

 

Leigh followed her father’s footsteps into coaching for a while, serving as U.S. Trampoline national team coach from 1984-88, and moved into what may have been an even more challenging field as one of film’s most respected stunt performers and coordinators. Dozens of movies and TV shows have shown her athletic skills, most notably when she served as Demi Moore’s stunt double during the filming of “G.I. Jane.”

 

“I shaved my head, jumped out of helicopters, planes, and got beat up by Viggo Mortensen,” Hennessy said. “It was fabulous.”

 

Charles Lancon

Charles Lancon had already put together a hugely successful three-decade coaching career in the high school ranks, and could have easily continued as Acadiana’s most successful prep track and field coach.

 

But his alma mater needed him in the worst way when he took over the Ragin’ Cajun program prior to the 1990 season.

 

“Both the men’s and women’s track program were in disarray,” said Tommy Badon, a former Cajun football player who joined Lancon as an assistant coach for most of his 14 seasons in that role. “It wasn’t long before he turned things around.”

 

Turnaround is not nearly a strong-enough word. Under the quiet and low-key Lancon, UL’s program became the standard by which Sun Belt Conference programs are judged.

 

In his third year, the Cajuns were a runaway winner in both the 1991 American South Conference men’s and women’s championship, snapping a streak of 21 years of no conference titles. But it was a year later, when UL joined the revamped Sun Belt Conference, that Lancon and the Cajuns truly made their mark.

 

Before his untimely death from a heart attack in April of 2002, in the heart of the 2002 outdoor season, Lancon’s teams won 17 conference titles in track and field and cross country, including the rare “Quadruple Crown” in 1993 when both the men’s and women’s teams won the Sun Belt indoor and outdoor titles.

 

The Cajun men won a combined 11 titles in indoor and outdoor competition during Lancon’s career, while the UL women won three indoor and outdoor crowns not long after UL’s women’s program was founded in 1986.

 

It’s little wonder that Lancon was honored as the Sun Belt’s Coach of the Year 14 times, and was selected as Louisiana’s Coach of the Year by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association seven times in a 10-year period.

 

More importantly, Lancon’s teams reached that successful plateau while serving as a model program for both the rest of the department and for track programs nationwide.

 

“His teams always represented USL and UL with pride and dignity,” Badon said. “His athletes never got in trouble, never created problems and were always among the leaders in grade-point average. A lot of that was because his athletes knew how much he loved the school and how much he fought for his program.”

 

“Charles Lancon led the track team to tremendous accomplishments as a team and individually,” said former UL athletic director Nelson Schexnayder, “but he was also a leader in the personal development of his student-athletes.”

 

A former two-year Cajun football letterman and a 1959 UL graduate, Lancon was head track and assistant football coach at Northside High (1959-68) and Lafayette High (1968-90), and twice during his Mighty Lion stint he was chosen as national High School Coach of the Year in District V along with 16 district titles and five state Coach of the Year honors.

 

But what he did for the Cajun program was even more impressive. Lancon coached more than two dozen NCAA All-Americans including one national champion when Ndabe Mdhlongwa won the 1995 men’s triple jump title (he later won the World Championship in that event for Zimbabwe).

 

It’s little wonder that in 2005 the Sun Belt honored him as the league’s All-Time Coach for indoor track and field in both the men’s and women’s divisions during the league’s 30-year anniversary celebration.

 

Ten of his athletes have been honored with induction into the university’s Athletics Hall of Fame, and this week Lancon joins that group. He will be honored posthumously as part of this year’s Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame group during Homecoming activities. Induction ceremonies are at 6 p.m. Friday at the Stadium Club at Russo Park, and the honorees will also be recognized during halftime of Saturday’s 4 p.m. Homecoming football game against Texas State.

 

“Nobody ever deserved this more,” Badon said. “He was not only a great coach but an even better man, a good husband, father, friend and boss. His death affected all of us, but he died doing what he loved the best – coaching the Cajuns.”

 

Jose Alvarez

It’s the rare athlete whose impact in the world is more significant after his playing career is over.

 

That’s the case with Jose Alvarez, despite the fact that the Greenville, S.C. native was a good enough baseball player at then-USL to make an all-decade team in the Southland Conference, and a good enough professional to have an 18-year career including four years on the big-league level.

 

His impact on the mound for the Ragin’ Cajuns and for the Atlanta Braves organization was significant, but Alvarez touched and continues to touch many more lives after he threw his last pitch. Since 1996, the former Southland Pitcher of the Year and eighth-round Braves draft choice has been a part of the national Fellowship of Christian Athletes staff, serving as director of professional golf’s TourLife ministry and as a chaplain for the PGA Tour.

 

In that role, he travels the country to Tour events and provides faith-based programs to meet the needs of traveling tournament golfers, families, caddies and Tour staff.

 

“I’ve known Jose for over 40 years, and while he’s as competitive as ever, it’s with a different purpose now,” said former college teammate and 1980 UL graduate Raymond Richard. “Every day Jose competes to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Along with his work with the Tour, he has a unique platform to reach the youth of America via golf campus and other FCA events across the country.”

 

That platform is a big part of his legacy, but it was his athletic success that now has him as one of this week’s inductees into the Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame, part of a group that will be honored as part of this year’s Homecoming activities. Induction ceremonies are at 6 p.m. Friday at the Stadium Club at Russo Park, and the honorees will also be recognized during halftime of Saturday’s 4 p.m. Homecoming football game against Texas State.

 

Alvarez was recruited by former Cajun baseball coach Don Lockwood, and led the Cajuns in both wins and strikeouts as a junior and a senior. He became the first Cajun pitcher since the legendary Ron Guidry to throw a nine-inning no-hitter when he fanned 10 batters in an 11-0 win over Texas-Arlington in April of 1978, the highlight of UL’s first year in what is now M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park.

 

“Jose was the epitome of a competitor,” Lockwood said. “As his coach I could always count on his competitive edge. But he also had the respect of his teammates because of his outstanding leadership qualities.”

 

Alvarez was an All-Southland performer as a senior and was later named to the Southland’s All-Decade team for the 1970’s. He still holds UL records for complete games in a season (12), shutouts in a season (five) and in a career (eight) and still holds the third-best career ERA in school history.

 

He was drafted by the Braves after his senior season and spent that season with the rookie league Kingsport Braves – an organization he never left in his nearly two-decade career. He spent time with the major league club in 1981-82, and was brought back to the “big club” in 1988 and 1989, making enough of a contribution in 1988 to earn the “Atlanta Braves Outstanding Pitcher” award from the Atlanta 400 Club.

 

He had an 8-9 mark and a 2.99 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 162 major-league innings during his career, and was still pitching on the AAA level with the Richmond Braves when he retired at the end of the 1995 season as one of the most popular players with his pro teammates.

 

“Jose was a mentor to me in so many ways,” said former Brave great John Smoltz, a 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee in his first year of eligibility. “He was responsible for looking after me as a young player in Richmond, and his leadership brought me under his wing and cared for me as a human being, and not for just what I could do on the baseball field.

 

“He cared about my heart and my character and sought out a relationship that still exists today, and I do call him a dear friend. I am forever grateful for Jose in showing me how to pay it forward in the game of baseball and life.”

 

 Ike Taylor

College football players change positions constantly, but rare is one who switches sides of the ball with only one year of eligibility remaining.

 

Ike Taylor played running back for UL in his junior season in 2001, his first year on the Ragin’ Cajun squad, but he was only there because a struggling Cajun offense needed all the help it could get.

 

“I always wanted to play defense,” Taylor said. “I just played running back to help the team out.”

 

In that one year, he was UL’s second-leading rusher with 323 yards and three touchdowns, and showed signs of things to come with touchdown runs of 65 and 48 yards along with catching 18 passes and returning kickoffs.

 

Taylor had been a standout on both sides of the ball at New Orleans’ Abramson High, so it wasn’t that big a transition … especially after new head coach Rickey Bustle took over the program entering his senior season.

 

The Cajuns only made marginal improvement that season – they were still three years away from Bustle leading UL to a surprising 2005 Sun Belt Conference title – but Taylor was a breakout star. He finished his senior season at cornerback with 46 tackles, eight breakups to tie teammate and fellow NFL standout Charles “Peanut” Tillman, and a reputation as a ball-hawk in the Cajun secondary.

 

“Coach (Gary) Bartel kept telling me I had a shot to go to the NFL if I switched to defensive back,” the Gretna native said. “I was a physical guy, I was fast and I liked to hit people. It just took time to work on my technique.”

 

Over the next 12 years, he had plenty of time to fine-tune that technique, and by the time Taylor finished an impressive NFL career he ranked as the all-time pass defender in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers – a team synonymous with defense. He had 134 pass breakups in his career, all of it spent in the Steel City, and also ranks ninth on Pittsburgh’s all-time list with 517 solo tackles.

 

“You could see the physical abilities he had,” Bustle said during Taylor’s NFL career. “He just had a late start learning how to play the position.”

 

He learned it well enough that Taylor is one of this week’s inductees into the Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame, part of a group that will be honored as part of this year’s Homecoming activities. Induction ceremonies are at 6 p.m. Friday at the Stadium Club at Russo Park, and the honorees will also be recognized during halftime of Saturday’s 4 p.m. Homecoming football game against Texas State.

 

He'll have a couple of long-time Steelers staffers on hand for the induction, which is only fitting since he patrolled the Pittsburgh secondary for over a decade after being tabbed in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Three years later, he started at cornerback in Super Bowl XL when the Steelers won their fifth title.

 

His best Super Bowl came three years later, though, when he had eight tackles in a 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

 

Not bad for a guy who had one year of defensive experience behind him when the Steelers made him the 125th selection in 2003 – a move which prompted long-time Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sportswriter Mark Madden to proclaim Taylor the Steelers’ “worst draft pick ever.”

 

A dozen years later, he retired as a Steeler at age 35, after being limited to five games in 2014 because of a broken arm.

 

“Other than having my son, playing for the Steelers has been the best experience in my entire lifetime,” Taylor said when announcing his retirement. “It is rare, in this day of free agency, super rare to play for one team. For me to have this opportunity says a lot about how they felt about me, what I gave back to the organization.” 

 

 Priscilla Lima

 

 It’s safe to say that Priscilla Lima took a roundabout way to Louisiana’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

 

Brazil … Acadiana … California … and now Florida, and at every stop volleyball was the one constant.

 

But the brand of volleyball that Lima became a standout in the professional ranks was very different from the one she played when she was a middle-blocking force at the net for the Ragin’ Cajuns – and not just because the level of play was higher.

 

After a career in which she was a two-time All-Sun Belt Conference selection, a frequent pick as the league’s Player of the Week and made her mark on several career statistical lists, she made the big jump from the indoor game to beach volleyball, which she had dabbled with in the junior ranks.

 

“I prefer beach because I’m a ball hog,” Lima said “I never stopped going back indoors, and that’s still fun because the game is so fast, so powerful. But I love the challenge to run the full court, and you only have to rely on just one other person.

 

“It’s what I do. And when I go to the office, I wear a bikini.”

 

Along with that bikini, she also wore the mantle of high-level performer on the world beach volleyball stage for a decade and a half. Lima began playing beach on a full-time basis in 2004, just over a year after she finished her storied UL career, and made her presence known first on the Brazilian Beach Tour in her native country.

 

Later on, she played professionally on the NVL, AVP and FIVB World Tour while remaining a part of the Brazilian National Beach Team. She and partners recorded numerous top-five finishes in all of those leagues along with the Branco de Brasil Tour, and among those wins are victories over players such as U.S. gold medalists Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor.

 

“Priscilla is one of the best athletes and one of the best personalities in all of the volleyball world,” said Kerri Walsh Jennings, a three-time U.S. Olympian and gold medalist in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

 

As recently as 2012, she and partner Renata Ribeiro – a fourth place finisher in the 2008 Beijing Olympics – were ranked fourth in volleyball-happy Brazil.

 

“When I first started I got my butt kicked by some of the greatest players in the game,” she said. “Big names like Holly McPeak were in their prime. I was blessed to step into that area, and the learning curve was that much faster. You just get in, do the best you can, live in the moment and train hard.”

 

The work ethic was never an issue with Lima during her collegiate career. In three years under coach Chris Campbell and a final year under Becky Madden, Lima finished her career with 1,228 kills and 1,187 digs, both of which still ranks in the Cajuns’ career top five. She also ranks among the single-season leaders in kills (381), attacks (1,006) and points (448 ½) in her senior year when she earned her second All-Sun Belt and All-Louisiana honor.

 

“I was primarily a middle blocker, but I also played on the back row,” Lima said. “Wherever I was needed, that’s where I wanted to be. I just always played as hard as I could and tried to keep everyone accountable. That’s who I am, I bring 100 percent to the court and I hate it when the team’s not playing at that same level.”

 

It’s that front row-back row versatility that’s helped her beach career, something that might not have happened if she hadn’t stumbled into the sport at the relatively late age of 15 in Brazil. Before that she was into dance – “especially flamenco dancing” – and team handball, where she earned a high school latter.

 

“It was love at first touch,” she said. “I started super late. I was very lucky to get into club volleyball at that age, and I was really well trained. Once I started, I wanted to play all the time.”

 

She’s now passing that accumulated knowledge to others, something she did while in Acadiana when she was part of the Southern Spikers and put on camps at several surrounding high schools. During the latter part of her pro career, she was an assistant coach at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., and is still in that city as director of the Optimum Volleyball club.

 

“I get to coach both beach and indoors,” she said. “I love the sport, love to be around the gym helping young players.”

 

Kathy Morton

 

 

 

It was 1:30 a.m. at UL softball’s hotel in Oklahoma City, many hours after the Ragin’ Cajuns had been eliminated in a loss to UNLV in the 1995 Women’s College World Series and finished fifth nationally, when coach Yvette Girouard got a knock on her door.

 

It was her team manager, saying that Kathy Morton wouldn’t give him her jersey to get laundered before the next day’s trip home.

 

“She wouldn’t take off her jersey,” Girouard said. “She didn’t want it to end. I got up and sat with her in the lobby and she cried her eyes out. We sat there for hours before I finally got her to take it off.”

 

Such was the passion that “Morty” played with during a stellar four-year career with the Cajun softball team, one that finished with first-team All-America honors in both her junior and senior seasons in 1994-95. UL reached the College World Series, their second Oklahoma City trip in three years, and Morton’s potent bat was a big reason.

 

That powerful bat – at a time when pitching still dominated collegiate softball – and that passion are the biggest reasons that Morton is one of this week’s inductees into the Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame, part of a group that will be honored as part of this year’s Homecoming activities. Induction ceremonies are at 6 p.m. Friday at the Stadium Club at Russo Park, and the honorees will also be recognized during halftime of Saturday’s 4 p.m. Homecoming football game against Texas State.

 

The Humble, Texas, product – no Cajun student-athlete was ever more aptly described by her hometown name -- was a four-year standard in the UL outfield lineup, and the Cajuns won 204 games during that stretch along with four NCAA Regional appearances and the two World Series trips.

 

She hit .398 during her career, still the sixth-highest in Cajun history, and ranks fifth in career doubles, offensive numbers that are even more impressive since softball was still very much a game of pitching, defense and finding ways to scratch runs.

 

“Pitching was still so dominating, the bats weren’t as good as they are now, the teaching wasn’t as good,” Girouard said. “It was all about trying to get on base. But she was a true hitter. Her eye was excellent, her hands were quick, she was just gifted with a lot of offensive talent. I knew I’d probably never coach another hitter like that again.”

 

“Pat Murphy (former UL assistant and now head coach at Alabama) made a great comment once, saying that Kathy Morton could still be on his team today and hit any pitching out there. She would be as relevant today as she was then.”

 

Consistency was a hallmark of Morton, who today serves as an assistant coach at Clear Creek High in League City, Texas. She hit .360 or higher in each of her final three seasons and hit over .400 as both a junior and senior. When she ended her career, she was UL’s all-time career leader in 12 different categories including home runs (43), RBI (187), walks (94) and slugging percentage (.676). Her .440 batting average was also a record and is still the second-best single-season mark in the storied Cajun offensive history.

 

It was those figures that earned her NFCA All-Region and All-Louisiana honors in each of her four seasons, and she was also named to the Women’s College World Series All-Tournament team as a sophomore when UL made its first-ever Oklahoma City trip. The Cajuns lost 1-0 to UCLA in the national semifinals after beating Cal State Northridge, Connecticut and Arizona to reach the final four.

 

It was two years later that Morton was reluctant to pull off that Cajun jersey, one that ironically she never got back.

 

“Those were the days that we didn’t give them their jerseys,” Girouard said. “The family wanted to frame it but of course it was nowhere to be found. It’s kind of sad that they never got that actual jersey.”

 

Hopefully, induction into the Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame makes up for that.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Stephanie DeFeo

 

 

 

It was only by an odd set of circumstances that Stephanie DeFeo ever set foot on the UL campus.

 

One of the most feared power hitters in collegiate softball hadn’t given the Ragin’ Cajuns a second thought when she was planning to sign with a college out of her Pleasantville, N.J., hometown.

 

Long-time Cajun coach Yvette Girouard wasn’t looking for a hitter when she was at a national tournament in Colorado in 1993. She was trying to recruit a pitcher.

 

“She (DeFeo) came up and hit a home run off the pitcher I was recruiting, and I followed her the rest of the tournament and kept saying, my God she is a hitter,” Girouard said. “I sent her a packet of information, but I never heard back.”

 

That packet went to a wrong address, and by the time Girouard was able to contact DeFeo by phone, the New Jersey product was down to her last recruiting trip and was headed for South Carolina.

 

“I asked her on Monday if she would think about coming in on a visit, and she came that weekend for her last visit,” Girouard said. “I had to beg the UL folks because it was such an expensive ticket, from New Jersey at the last minute, but she came in Homecoming week, fell in love with the atmosphere and we signed her.”

 

It helped that Girouard, coming off her team’s first-ever Women’s College World Series appearance, was the grand marshal of the Homecoming parade. “I think she was a little impressed with that,” Girouard said, “but it was all just lucky.”

 

The Cajuns were the lucky ones, since DeFeo went on to earn three All-America honors at first base and designated player, and she left with a school-record 43 home runs –15 in her senior season – in an era still dominated by pitching. Her .676 slugging mark still ranks among UL’s all-time leaders.

 

“There were a lot of veterans on that team, and the talent when I got there was unbelievable,” said DeFeo, now the softball coach at Mercer in Macon, Ga. “But Yvette did not let you settle. There was no let-up. We worked hard every day. She demanded excellence and we didn’t want to let her down.”
Girouard’s teams were coming into their own as a national power, but she realized that she had something special in the “Jersey Girl.”

 

“She was just a specimen as an athlete,” Girouard said. “I told her that she was kind of a bull in a china shop defensively, but offensively she was just an animal. Pure strength and power, but she was able to harness that power and turn it to her advantage. She really had to work hard defensively, but she did that and she became a very good first baseman.”

 

DeFeo earned All-America honors as a freshman in 1994 when she was also All-Louisiana and All-South Region, and set a school record with a .739 slugging percentage. She repeated that national honor as a sophomore when she hit .409, and took All-America honors for the third time as a senior in 1997. Twice in her career, the Cajuns reached the World Series, and UL was ranked as high as No. 2 nationally in her freshman season.

 

The Cajuns had pitchers like Kyla Hall (17 career no-hitters) and Cheryl Longeway (no-hitter vs. Michigan in the 1995 WCWS), but they also needed offensive punch, and DeFeo filled that need – especially after working with then-UL assistant and now Alabama head coach Pat Murphy.

 

“I was raw when I got there, and Pat molded me to be able to hit to all fields,” DeFeo said. “As a freshman it was ‘see ball, hit ball.’ I didn’t know any better. Pat inspired me to be a better player.”

 

That didn’t come without a lot of work, though, and it’s that work ethic that has her as one of this week’s inductees into the Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame, part of a group that will be honored as part of this year’s Homecoming activities. Induction ceremonies are at 6 p.m. Friday at the Stadium Club at Russo Park, and the honorees will also be recognized during halftime of Saturday’s 4 p.m. Homecoming football game against Texas State.

 

“I knew how to get there, what it took,” DeFeo said. “You’ve got to put the work in. Me and Kathy Morton (a fellow Hall of Fame inductee this week) would go back to the field at night, set up the machine, then keep hitting until the balls were all over the fence. Then we’d go and pick them up and start over.”

 

* * * * * *

Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas
Click here for additional information about the 2019 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies.  

 

 

 



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