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The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

Vanderford’s values: Teammates over everything

Sarah Manning
Texas State graduate student infielder Sara Vanderford (26) watches the pitch, Saturday, April 11, 2023, at Bobcat Softball Stadium.

Entering her fifth and final season as a Bobcat, graduate student infielder Sara Vanderford seeks to enjoy her last moments as she continues to break Texas State batting records. Vanderford’s hitting is some of the best in Texas State history with 139 career RBI and a .330 career batting average.

Vanderford’s early commitment at 15 years old was far from unsighted. Her freshman year wasn’t her first time in San Marcos. She was already very familiar with the city, as her older brother was an alumnus, and according to Vanderford, Texas State was always the place for her.

“I had spent every summer here. I love the area,” Vanderford said. “It literally was my home away from home.”

Vanderford first entered the program as a freshman in 2020, just in time for COVID-19. Dealing with a pandemic and all of the struggles of being a new student-athlete, Vanderford said she continued to persevere.

“Some of the girls on that team didn’t come back,” Vanderford said. “As much as I hate COVID, I am a little thankful for it because it made me realize there’s always something bigger than striking out or missing a ball.”

Even with such adversity, Vanderford was strong her freshman season, collecting 16 RBI and the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year award.

In her following seasons, Vanderford only continued to flourish. As her skillset grew, so did her accolades, landing her on the Sun Belt All-Tournament team for the 2021, 2022 and 2023 seasons. Now, heading into the 2024 season, she has found herself in a leadership position that comes naturally with her dominance at the plate.

Head Coach Ricci Woodard said Vanderford uses this to motivate her teammates to get better.

“She figured out that she can make everyone around her better,” Woodard said. “That just comes with maturity. She’s done a really good job of figuring out how to drive her teammates.”

Vanderford uses her leadership position to help her teammates on and off the field. She said she uses her experience to help guide her fellow teammates through obstacles she’s experienced firsthand.

“If they have questions or concerns they can take it from someone who, five years later, I’ve heard it all,” Vanderford said. “Most importantly, I just want to be a good person and a good teammate that everyone can count on.”

This kind of position, however, does not come without its challenges. Vanderford said she’s grateful for her position, but it takes a certain kind of person to deal with the pressure.

“Pressure is a privilege. It means you’ve done something right,” Vanderford said. “If you take it the wrong way, it can eat you alive.”

Woodard said Vanderford’s leadership and ability to take on responsibilities goes beyond being beneficial for this year’s roster.

“Her leadership skills she’s developed over the last five years have been just phenomenal for the program,” Woodard said. “Kobe Bryant said it right when he said, ‘Leadership is lonely.’”

After Vanderford’s time and impact on Texas State, she hopes to leave a strong legacy within the softball program far beyond her statistics.

“I want my teammates’ parents to know they’re in a safe place,” Vanderford said. “[And] that they’re always going to have someone.”

As the 2024 season approaches, Vanderford and Woodard agree they want to remain expectation-free, focusing solely on their performance and getting the job done.

“We talked about not setting ourselves up for expectations, but execution. I think we expected to be better last year than we were,” Woodard said. “So now, it’s more about executing better this year, not just expecting to.”

Though there are high expectations on the diamond for Vanderford this season, she said she’s more focused on enjoying her final season as a Bobcat.

“The numbers will come, the stats will come,” Vanderford says. “I really just want to go out there and have fun, do the best that I can do.”

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