Just days before Christmas, Texas A&M softball coach Jo Evans and her staff issued a late holiday wish — the program sure could use a bright, shiny utility infielder for Christmas.
In today’s digital age, a letter to the North Pole was much too antiquated. All college player requests can now be directed to the NCAA transfer portal, an online database for coaches to search for athletes who have a desire to find a new home.
That is how Evans and her staff discovered Utah transfer Kelly Martinez in the waning days of December.
“To get her admitted and in here and everything done and ready to go on Day 1, it’s just really unbelievable that we were able to do that,” Evans said.
Martinez took in her first practice as a part of the A&M softball team Monday amid a myriad of new and young faces.
After gaining her release from Utah, Martinez was originally verbally committed to Texas, Evans said. When a transfer shake up with the Longhorns changed her depth chart positioning, the Aggies sensed an opportunity and swooped in, calling the junior utility infielder for the first time around Dec. 22, Evans said. Having traveled to College Station last season with the Utes and holding a relationship with Evans, a Utah alumna, A&M quickly took the forefront as Martinez’s next college home, Evans said.
“She bought in pretty quickly,” Evans said. “It didn’t take a lot of convincing. She knows our program.
“There is that sense of familiarity even though she never played for me, that she understands who I am and the kind of culture we have here.”
Martinez is one of three transfers who portaled their way to College Station over the offseason. Sophomore infielder Ashlynn Walls of UTSA and graduate transfer Kendall Potts of Baylor should factor heavily into Evans plans this season, she said.
However, for as much as the transfer portal giveth, it also taketh away — a lesson A&M learned extensively over the offseason.
Three Aggie starters transferred out of the program over the offseason. Left fielder Keeli Milligan and right fielder Sarah Hudek moved to Louisiana-Lafayette and starting pitcher Samantha Show took her game to Oklahoma State. With graduations and two additional players who quit included, senior infielder Riley Sartain is the only returning regular starter in the Aggies’ lineup. As A&M gears up for a Feb. 8 season opener against California Baptist, it will feature the youngest lineup Evans can remember having in her time at A&M.
“At times, it felt challenging to have the turnover because that hasn’t been our M.O.,” Evans said. “Kids stay here. It doesn’t matter if they start a game in their entire career, they aren’t going to give up an opportunity here. That was different. Never at any moment have I felt discouraged. I understand that you want players in your program that want to be here, who see this as a tremendous opportunity and a privilege, because that’s how I feel about my opportunity here. I want to be surrounded by players that feel the same way and are 100 percent committed to the program.”
That is a quality increasingly more challenging to find in today’s free-agent student-athlete world, thanks to the culture that created the transfer portal, Evans said. Across the country and throughout other sports, the willingness to find greener pastures has become more commonplace, she said.
“The thing I don’t like about it is that we’re not a professional team,” Evans said. “We’re an institution of higher learning. We’re supposed to have players come and get degrees and graduate and have this whole collective college experience. This doesn’t feel good to be in this kind of situation where now we’ve got — it’s just so much more lenient and loose.”
And yet, as A&M opened spring practice for the first time in Davis Diamond, expectations remain no different than those two seasons prior, when the Aggies pushed their way into the Women’s College World Series.
“Our expectations always stay the same, which can be even more challenging at times if you are young and inexperienced, but we are never going to lower the bar,” Evans said. “We’re always going to have the expectation that we’re going to be playing in the College World Series and that we’re going to vie for championships.”