TEMPLE, Texas (KWTX) Months after winning the NJCAA Division I softball national championship, the Temple College Leopards reminisced on an emotional 2018 season with a memorable ring ceremony.
Athletic Director Craig McMurtry gave a championship joke-telling effort that resulted in a few chuckles among the crowd of about 200 people.
Head coach Kristen Zaleski gave the same effort trying to avoid tearing up when talking about the unique coaching staff that includes her father, Maurice. She also focused on the team's resilience, and showed gratitude toward Temple College.
"Last year's team, we faced a lot," Zaleski said. "To see them come together, it really shows that the best team is the team that ends up winning in the end."
Tiare Lee also courageously opened up about her desire to play softball prior to this past season in which she finished second on the Leopards with a .427 batting average.
"This group is such a special group," Zaleski said. "There were so many things that came up throughout the year. We kept getting hit, we kept getting knocked down, but the girls got right back up."
The Leopards had a few ups-and-downs during a 2018 season in which they earned 47 victories and lost just eight times. Along with multiple double-digit win streaks, they bounced back injuries, a loss to Chipola College on the final day of the national tournament, and other off-field distractions.
One player that helped Temple become just the second junior college softball team from Texas to win an NJCAA title, Mikaela Sako, wasn't even on Zaleski's radar going into the season. The Cedar Park native actually arrived on campus with a volleyball scholarship, but wanted to play softball, too.
Not only did she produce a .311 batting average in 30 games, but she was the pitching complement to Leopards ace Karina Sanchez. Sako's devastating curveball helped her tally a 2.89 ERA in 18 appearances.
Perhaps the most nerve-wracking experience recently, though, was doing everything right at the ring ceremony in front of the Temple city mayor.
"There was way more people than I expected," Sako said. "I thought it was going to be a small thing, and it ended up being like 200 people.
"There are so many people here who are supporting us and wanting to be here. It's crazy how much people care. You don't really think of it as something that people are proud of, or the city is proud of, but as something as like, 'Hey, my team did this really awesome thing."
Yah, Leps. You really did.