Today, Softball Head Coach Kelly Saenz leads one of the nation’s most competitive women’s softball programs at San Jacinto College. She’s won nearly 450 career games over 12 seasons, and has twice guided the program to the National Junior College Athletic Association’s (NJCAA) national tournament. If it seems as though a career in the softball coaching ranks has been a perfect fit for Saenz, it’s because it was simply meant to be.
One of Winnipeg’s top players as a youth, Saenz was a star shortstop with a power bat who eventually helped her club team win a pair of Canadian championships.
Last month, Saenz, whose maiden name is Swanson, was reunited with many of her former teammates from the Smitty’s Midget girls’ division team, which as a team was inducted into the Softball Canada Hall of Fame. Smitty’s won three straight Canadian Championships from 1994 through 1996. Saenz was a member of the 1995 and 1996 squads. She said she knew those teams were really good, no doubt. But having relived some of those moments with former teammates at the induction ceremony, Saenz now realizes how good.
“We just went out on the field and took care of our business,” she said. “We knew we were good. But looking back on it now, there’s just no way anybody could have beaten us. I don’t mean that to brag, but we were that good. Players came in from all over the province at that time. And softball was really just getting started from a club standpoint then. There’s been a lot of growth in the sport since then. I don’t think anybody could do now what we were able to do then.”
Saenz said she was eventually recruited to play at Eastern Kentucky University while Smitty’s was playing at nationals in White Rock, British Columbia in 1995. Smitty’s won its third straight to three national crowns in Brandon, Manitoba in 1996, and Saenz headed off to college. After a standout career at Eastern Kentucky, Saenz graduated in 1998 with an eye on the coaching profession.
Following one season at Frank Phillips College, Saenz was hired at San Jacinto College.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to have to get a real job,” Saenz said of her choice to enter the coaching ranks. “I knew I wanted to continue to be around the sport of softball. I wanted to be able to give back to the sport, to pass on some of the incredible experiences I had as a player. I think I’ve been able to do that.”
Yes, she has. And as the start of the 2016 season nears for San Jacinto College with an appearance at the Galveston College Invitational, Saenz will once again be thinking of the ultimate big prize – getting to nationals this May.
In 2014, San Jac placed fifth at nationals.
“It’s just so much more difficult these days (than when she was playing),” Saenz said. “It’s so competitive, and there are so many talented coaches and programs.”
What about the 2016 team? Saenz says the group is both talented and close-knit. It’s a couple of traits she hopes for each season, and perhaps this is the season that could bring a title to San Jacinto College. “That would be the icing on the cake,” Saenz said. “I think we all know what it takes. It’s what you play for, and hopefully you get the breaks and also make the plays when it’s all on the line.”
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of approximately 30,000 credit students. The College offers 186 degrees and certificates, with 46 technical programs and a university transfer division. Students benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success, and job training programs that are renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.