D3 title brings duo ‘surreal’ moment
They were two girls who found themselves amidst the minutiae of young athletes and then seven-plus years later they became national champions together.
Alyssa Cantu and Madisyn Cates, two graduates of Sterling High School – Class of 2016 – recently returned home as members of the Texas Lutheran national championship softball team, that just claimed the title last Monday with a 2-0 sweep of the best-of-three NCAA Division III championship series in the University of Texas-Tyler.
Both young women, who played varsity at RSS since their freshmen year, were able to find their softball nirvana with the national title – besting their best run during high school; a run to the Class 6A Region 3 quarterfinals in 2015.
The first-baseman Cates batted .386 for the season with one homer and 33 RBI and was named to the D3 All-Tournament team, while Cantu, started in 22 of 29 games she appeared in and finished with a 1.000 fielding percentage.
They were two parts of the program’s first-ever national title in softball.
“I couldn’t believe, it still feels surreal,” Cantu said. “It only happened (a week ago). For the past month-and-a-half we have been traveling. It’s been non-stop and living out of our suitcases playing softball.”
“I don’t think it has quite set in and hit us yet,” Cates said.
Cantu said that the fact it is D3 – non-scholarship athletics – it means that much more to the athletes involved and maybe winning tastes even better,
“We’re out there on the field not because we have to be, but because we want to be,” Cantu said. “All those players out there? They have nothing to lose. We are out there, because we want to be there, we want to play the sport and we want to win.
“(People think) if they aren’t getting athletic scholarships that they aren’t good enough to play. That is contrary to the actual truth. You are a literal student-athlete. You are held to the same standard as a normal student.”
And there are plenty of top athletes to compete against.
“They are a lot of players in Division III that could have played D1, but they were either overlooked or it just wasn’t the right fit for them,” Cates said. “There are some equal levels of talent in D1 and D3.”
The two ladies got here after meeting right before their freshmen year at Sterling during athletic workouts.
“That’s when we met; we suffered together,” Cantu said. “It created a bond. Summer workouts, all the sports and incoming freshmen are invited, and we were the only two softball girls that showed up.”
“Strength in numbers,” Cates said. “We just hit it off. We knew of each other, but never talked to each other, so this was our moment and we instantly clicked.”
At the tailend of their Sterling years, Cates signed with Texas Lutheran after its head coach Wade Wilson recruited after seeing her hit one foul ball.
She said her visit went well and with the program having a good history of winning, the choice was a no-brainer.
Her father, Jerry Cates, was the recruitment coordinator for his daughter’s select team and passed on Cantu’s name to Wilson and the rest was history.
“I had never heard about TLU until Mady committed there,” Cantu said. “Then Mr. Cates told me they were looking for another catcher if I was interested. At the time, they didn’t have my desired area of study. My senior year, I decided to change my major and the best school in the state of Texas that has that program (Kinesiology- Rehabilitation Science) turned out to be TLU. A week later I committed there.”
Cantu thought before this relationship was built, that her softball career was over.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do, I had no idea,” Cantu said. “Grace of God. Mady was going there – she’s one of my best friends – and it all worked out well.”
Cates also appreciated that Wilson told her he wouldn’t change her swing and only make tweaks when and where needed.
“Knowing that was a big factor as to why I committed there,” Cates said.
They started playing there and winning and the victories kept rolling until they claimed a title.
“We are playing on a stage that we have been wanting to play on since we were young,” Cantu said. “Getting there and achieving that and achieving success? When not, many other teams do? It’s pretty awesome.”
The Bulldogs have gone 117-17 in the ladies’ three years there.
Although their old nemesis, Texas-Tyler, wouldn’t stand in their way after numerous time thwarting TLU runs, due to moving up into a NCAA Division II transition period as not to be eligible for the tournament.
“There will also be that little piece of you that says, ‘Dang, I wish we could have played them and beat them and did the same thing,’” Cantu said. “It would have made it that much sweeter.”
Tyler eliminated TLU in 2018 in the regional final.
Now they are champions together and they hope for one more round of winning before moving on to the real world and their future professions.
“We had this grit about being able to overcome adversity,” Cates said. “I think this postseason we just had been through a lot and you weren’t going to take it away from us now.
“It was such an amazing feeling, because it’s what you want to do when you start playing softball at the collegiate level: To win a national championship. One isn’t good enough. I want to win another one.”