Angelina DeLeon knows that she may never wear a Calaveras High School softball uniform again.
Her junior year came to an end only after nine games when the season was cut short because of the early worries of COVID-19. Now, nearly nine months after playing her final game of the 2020 season, there are still question marks surrounding the upcoming 2021 season.
“It’s sad to say it, but the way that 2020 has been, you never know which way things will go,” DeLeon said. “Things change every day with the situation that we live in. It is kind of sad to say that I don’t see a season happening, but I’m praying every day that it happens because I want to have a great senior season.”
If she is unable to play during her senior year, her high school career will end with only playing one full year on the varsity level, which was in 2019 as a sophomore. Nevertheless, even if DeLeon’s Calaveras career is over, she has not played her final softball game.
No, far from it.
In early December, DeLeon signed to become a student-athlete at the University of Mississippi, better known as Ole Miss. While at Ole Miss, DeLeon will be a member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), which is always a powerhouse conference in the college softball world.
“I’m very blessed and fortunate,” DeLeon said. “A lot of girls don’t get this opportunity and when this opportunity came to play and further my career at Ole Miss, it was just something that I couldn’t pass up.”
DeLeon is excited to make Oxford her new home, but the state of Mississippi wasn’t always in the forefront of her mind. Instead of heading to the deep south, DeLeon originally planned to move to the land of 10,000 lakes and play softball at the University of Minnesota.
However, a late-inning coaching change made her rethink her options. Former Minnesota head coach Jamie Traschell left the Golden Gophers in April to become the sixth head softball coach at Ole Miss. The relationship DeLeon built with Traschell and assistant coach Katie Rietkovich Browder was so strong, she trusted her coaches and instincts and made the decision to attend Ole Miss.
“My coaches made the switch over to Ole Miss and I fell in love with them, so, I just think it’s the best fit,” DeLeon said. “It was a late opportunity. Of course, it’s playing in the SEC and the opportunity to play for Jamie and Katie and I love them both to death. They believed in me and I believed in them. It was the easiest decision I could have made. I think I’m going to be happy and the most successful there. I see the most successful version of myself at Ole Miss.”
While DeLeon is thrilled to have her future finally mapped out, letting Minnesota know that the California girl would not be heading to the northern part of the country wasn’t the easiest news to deliver.
“It was a hard decision to make and honestly, I cried about it,” DeLeon said. “No one wants to decommit to a school, but the best version of myself is at Ole Miss and I saw that in my future.”
Now that DeLeon is signed on to be an official Ole Miss Rebel, she has to prove that she belongs. DeLeon was a key member of Calaveras’ Mother Lode League championship team in 2019. As a sophomore, she hit .507 with 38 hits, 27 RBIs, 22 runs scored, with 10 doubles and three home runs. She finished the year as an all-league player.
Heading into her junior season, DeLeon was one of the few returning members from the previous year. She was primed to have another strong season and after just nine games, was on the right track. DeLeon was hitting .500 with 13 hits, 13 runs scored, nine RBIs, with three doubles, one triple and one homer. But before the season got close to league play, everything was canceled.
“It was heartbreaking that our season got canceled my junior year,” DeLeon said. “But I took it upon myself to play for one of the top travel teams in the nation down in Los Angeles. So, I think that will help me a lot to prepare to play in the SEC. But I still want one final year to play at Calaveras and hopefully win a section title.”
During the fall, DeLeon made the long trip to Los Angeles every week to practice and play with her travel team. There, she was able to compete with some of the top talent in the country and keep her skills sharp. But when she isn’t in Southern California, DeLeon makes sure to practice every day, even if it’s in her own backyard.
“My dad set up a cage in the backyard during the pandemic and my mom and brother pitched in to get me a weightlifting set,” DeLeon said. “I also have a pitch-back for defense and my dad loves to roll me ground balls in the backyard.”
Practicing hard is the only option for DeLeon. While she has faced some stiff competition in high school and on her travel team, playing in the SEC is a different beast and she knows it. Currently, she’s slated to play in the infield, but whatever position she is asked to play is where DeLeon will end up.
“I’m listed as a shortstop/utility player, but if I want to get out on that field, I’ll play anywhere,” DeLeon said. “I think I have the mindset that I’m going to go there and prove myself. You have to do that to succeed. I’ve kind of dealt with that already being a younger player on an older team and proving yourself to everyone.”
While at Ole Miss, DeLeon’s intended major is Sports and Rec Administrations. She hopes that once her playing days are done, she’ll be able to coach the game she grew up playing.
“I want to be a college coach,” DeLeon said. “I want to teach softball and give back to the softball community.”
For years, coaching college softball has been the highest level a female could go. But when Alyssa Nakken became the first woman to coach at the Major League Level as a member of the San Francisco Giants’ coaching staff, a door became opened that had been previously closed. So, is the MLB a place DeLeon would also one day like to end up?
“I’ve actually thought about that,” she said. “I’ve actually said to my mom, ‘Hey, I could one day be a manager for a baseball team.’ I think female athletes need a voice and show that they can do it and show to everyone that they can do whatever they want on the sports fields.”
But before DeLeon takes a swing at the MLB or being a college coach, she still needs to produce at Ole Miss. And the only way she’s going to be successful at such a high level is through hard work, which is exactly how DeLeon likes it.
“I’m a believer in if you work hard, you can do anything,” DeLeon said. “All you can do is try. I’ve had several people say, ‘You’re never going to make it,’ or, ‘You’re never going to get to that highest level and play college softball,’ but here I am. You have to keep a positive mindset, keep pushing forward and doing the little things will lead you to big stages.”