Fresno State’s Stesha Brazil stands in position, during a Bulldogs contest last season. Photo courtesy of Geoff Thurner/Fresno State Athletics
Fresno State senior softball player Stesha Brazil didn’t work on her batting form or fielding over the winter break. Instead, she rode her wild mustang, Spirit, for the first time.
Brazil, a Turlock native, bought Spirit herself for $50 when she was 8 years old. She broke him and trained him herself, and for the first time she got on and rode him this winter.
Growing up on a cattle ranch has kept Brazil old-fashioned and humble, she said.
“One thing that people don’t usually know about me is that I’m a country girl. I rope, and I ride, and we have a cattle business,” Brazil said. “Most people just think I’m an athlete, but when I go home it’s not about sports at all. It’s about family and the ranch.
“It’s a cowboy way of life.”
When she wasn’t on the ranch as a girl, she was on a diamond. She played T-ball at age 5 and started playing in a travel league at age 8. When she started playing for the travel league, she was the youngest on the Turlock Titans.
The coach of that first travel team, Paul Willis, hand-picked Brazil for his team after watching her practice with her father and brothers for a slow-pitch league.
Brazil stuck with softball through middle school and high school, taking a different path than her brothers, who focused on rodeo.
When it came time to pick what college for which she wanted to play softball, Brazil had a tough choice.
“The two most important things to me were obviously a good, solid program and education,” she said. “To me, getting a degree is more important than playing.”
The University of Houston offered her a full-ride scholarship, and she took it.
“I thought I wanted to go away for school and get the college experience, but when I went there it was too far for me, and I got really homesick,” she said. “I’m used to my family being at almost every single game. It was a culture shock when I got there and didn’t have that kind of support.”
But before returning to California, Brazil helped lead the Texas team to the NCAA Super Regionals with a 44-18 overall record.
Brazil was excited to transfer to Fresno State as a sophomore, where she ranked second on the team in her first season with a .304 batting average and was a Western Athletic Conference Scholar Athlete.
Though she performed well, Brazil said the transition from Houston to Fresno State wasn’t easy.
“Coach [Margie] Wright and the team that was here made me feel really welcome,” she said. “But it was really relieving coming here.”
In Brazil’s 3-season college softball career, she’s had a different coach each year. Each year, she’s adjusted to the new coaching style.
She said that in Houston, coaches really emphasized “squishing the bug” in hitting, but at Fresno State the batting focus is on driving off the back leg and throwing hands to the inside of the pitch.
That’s one thing Brazil said she hopes she can help incoming freshmen teammates with — adjusting.
“I especially know how hard it is for the freshmen because of how many transitions I’ve made,” she said. “As a senior, it’s kind of our job to help them along and make it easier for them.”
Brazil said freshmen should remember that “softball is what you do. It’s not who you are.”
Her coach, Trisha Ford, said Brazil is a natural leader.
“Stesha does a great job of making everybody feel welcome,” Ford said. “I think all of our underclassmen can go and talk to her. She’s very warm and gives great advice.”
Last season, Brazil earned Academic All-Mountain West honors and ranked fourth in the Mountain West in home runs with 10.
Ford called her a “five-tool player,” saying Brazil could run, hit for power, average and bunts.
Brazil’s favorite memory from last season was the game at Santa Barbara, where she hit a home run to left field and another to right field off of a Missouri pitcher, who’s one of the top pitchers in the nation.
In the upcoming season, Brazil hopes to improve her batting average and become “a more efficient hitter, rather than a home-run power hitter.”
Brazil, who is majoring in communications, hopes to eventually go into sports broadcasting after she gets a master’s degree. She will intern with Fresno State Athletics over the summer and hopes to help out with the softball team.