Lely softball coach looks back at up-and-down year with young squad

Lely High School

Lely softball coach Yelissa Rivera said this season was a learning experience - for both her young team and herself.

The Trojans went 15-12 in a season full of ups and downs, but that's to be expected with so many freshmen and sophomores on the roster. Lely pulled off a big upset in the district semifinals, topping CCAC champion Immokalee 12-11 and advancing to the regional round.

But, as has been the case throughout the year, the Trojans couldn't quite build on the momentum of that Immokalee win, losing the district final to Barron Collier and the regional quarterfinal to North Fort Myers in blowout fashion.

"I don't think anybody thought we could get as far as we did," Rivera said. "We played so well against Immokalee. It's a shame we couldn't figure it out for the next two games. But that's the thing about a young team, they're not yet consistent."

Rivera applauded the performances of junior third baseman Lily Manning, sophomore pitcher Sara Leon and sophomore catcher Bianca Palacios. She said those three players have been consistent performers all year, which has been a big help.

"It was definitely educational to see what girls stepped up and what girls rose to the occasion, and also what girls improved the most," she said. "I'm very proud of those girls that did step up for the sake of the whole team."

Rivera said she thought her team was successful in the Immokalee game because not much was expected of them and they just played loose and free out there. They avenged an earlier 13-2 loss to the Indians.

"That game we had nothing to lose, it was win or go home kind of thing," she said. "I was pretty impressed with the way our bats came alive against the same pitcher (Jillian Rodriguez) we couldn't figure out during the regular season."

A former pitcher on the Puerto Rican national team, Rivera is fiery and passionate. She's also extremely competitive and hates to lose. Rivera said one of the biggest things she's learned about coaching is dialing her emotions back when normally she might let them out.

"I learned I had to keep things together as much as possible," she said. "Ironically, I've been told my face itself is intimidating. If you mess up, I'm going to give you that look. I'm an alpha dog and a control freak, but I'm getting better at dialing it back a little."