WATCH: DJ Sanders On Ragin’ Cajuns 2017 Season
DJ Sanders had a breakout year in 2016 as a sophomore, so how does she plan on building on that success for the Ragin' Cajuns in 2017?
Not only is Sanders one of the slickest defenders in the Sun Belt, she put on a power display last year with 18 home runs, earning her First Team All-Sun Belt honors. She was selected to the Preseason All-Sun Belt team this year too, which goes to show you the rest of the conference expects her to pick up where she left off.
Last year taught her how to deal with the pressure of the game, and she wants to take those lessons and build on them as a junior.
"What I learned was just to be myself and not try to put more pressure on me," Sanders said. She added, "Just play free, and that's really what helped me make the biggest jump from my freshman year to sophomore year."
One of the main differences this year will be embracing her role as a leader. As an underclassman, she didn't have to shoulder that load, but Head Coach Mike Lotief expects her to help bring the younger players along this season.
Sanders admitted leadership is something she will have to get used to. Thankfully, other players like Haley Hayden and Aleah Craighton are already stepping up, but Sanders said for now, she's just trying to show the others how she prepares and works.
"The younger girls look up to me, so I feel like I have to be the best role model for them, which starts with perfecting myself, making sure that I'm doing the stuff that I'm yelling at them to do," Sanders explained. "I've grown more just by trying to lead by example."
The younger players would be wise to pick up some pointers from Sanders. She was in the same position they are in now, and she made the most of it.
Sanders is continues to grow as a player, which is a scary thought for the rest of the Sun Belt. Her performance last season proved she is a complete softball player, in the field and at the plate, and her experience with Team USA only cemented the idea in her head that she can compete at the highest level with the nation's top talent.
All offseason, she worked on her approach at the plate to become a more well-rounded hitter. She was already getting it done offensively last season, but she wants to bring the results on a more regular basis. What is her main goal?
"Consistency at the plate. I felt like last year, I did better at the plate, but there were hills and valleys. I would rather it just be the hills," Sanders said with a smile.
Sanders is flourishing in Lotief's system. Something clicked for her last season, now she's trying to reach another gear.
The beginning of softball season is right around the corner, and Sanders and her teammates are looking to prove to the rest of the country that they're still a force to be reckoned with. When great players leave, others step up, and it's time for Sanders to make that leap.