Lely softball squad has new leader in Yelissa Rivera

Lely junior third baseman Lily Manning races back to the bag during a team fielding drill at practice Monday, February 5.

When former Lely softball coach Rich Costante stepped down from the position in October, the Trojans didn’t have to look far for his replacement.

Lely already had a former Puerto Rico national team pitcher teaching four math courses at the high school.

At first, Yelissa Rivera, 40, was a bit apprehensive about taking the job. Although she was a successful player and has served as a personal pitching coach for many years, she had never served as a head coach.

“When Rich left, our principal (Ellen Keegan) approached me and asked if I was interested, and I said to put (the job opening) out there and that if nobody applied or nobody else is better, I’d be happy to do it,” she said. “I didn’t want to leave the girls hanging.”

Citing Rivera’s extensive background working with pitchers to go along with her experiences as an elite-level player, the interest in her comes as no surprise.

“It’s very nice to feel wanted,” she said. “And I’m excited to work with these girls. We have more of a young team this season. They’re a lot of fun, just a great group of girls to work with.”

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Junior infielder Lily Manning, one of the veterans on the squad, says she’s liked what she’s seen from Rivera.

“I’m very excited to work with her,” Manning said. “With her being with the Puerto Rican national team, she brings a lot to the table, especially with all the new girls. She knows a lot and I think we can relate to her a lot more. She’s played softball her whole life and that helps us a lot. She always brings us up when we’re feeling down. She always knows what to say to help us out.”

Rivera said her sense of humor is one of her greatest attributes, and that she’ll bring an upbeat attitude to the team.

“It will be fun, but it will also be business,” she said. “I’m very regimented and I thrive off routine and accountability. And I also think the team will thrive off that as well. I’m not giving up on them, so I don’t see why they should ever give up on themselves kind of thing.”

Another benefit Rivera brings to the table is her ability to pitch batting practice. A former world class pitcher, she’ll be able to give her girls all sorts of different looks from the mound.

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“I bring the heat, I mix it up, throw a few drop curves in there to get them ready for what they’re going to see in the games,” Rivera said. “That should be an advantage for us.”

Lely returns just four starters from a team that went 14-14 and advanced to the regional quarterfinals – third baseman Manning, catcher Bianca Palacios, pitcher/second baseman Sara Leon and first baseman/catcher Jazmine Walton.

“We have a lot of new faces on the team, but we’ve clicked so much already, just two weeks into practice,” Manning said. “We’re getting used to playing with each other. Granted, day by day, it’s going to take some time, but it’s going well so far.”

Lely opens the regular season Tuesday, Feb. 13, with a home game against Seacrest Country Day.