Alex Velazquez, Chanhassen’s new center fielder, could not have stepped into a more perfect situation.
Last year, as a high school junior in her home state of Colorado, Velazquez gave a verbal commitment to play softball for the University of Minnesota. With her father, Francisco, retired from the Air Force and noting that the family had relatives in Minnesota, the Velazquezes set out last spring to find a local high school from which Alex could graduate.
“I was looking for academics, first and foremost,” Velazquez said. “That was the main thing.”
She and her family settled on Chanhassen, whose softball prowess was unbeknown to them. It was a pleasant surprise when the Storm proceeded to win the 2016 Class 4A state championship.
“Honest, softball was not my reason for choosing Chanhassen,” Velazquez said. “When they went to state, my mom and I were following them online, on the brackets. We would keep track of them and it just so happened they won state. It was kind of like a sign.”
Not enough? The Storm lost just one starter from that team — its center fielder, Velazquez’s position.
Right place, right time.
Even without the addition of Velazquez, Chanhassen was considered the favorite in Class 4A. The Storm boasts a lineup with few holes. The Storm can hit for average and power and play crack defense. The pitching staff goes three-deep. Catcher Jessica Bren, one of the state’s premier power hitters, hit a home run on the first pitch she saw in 19-0 rout of Cooper last Tuesday. Shortstop/pitcher Marybeth Olson is bound for Connecticut and is the glue that holds the talent-laden Storm together.
The team acknowledges that last year’s success guarantees nothing for this season. Olson said there have been plenty of talks among the players about doing what it takes to repeat.
“Obviously the goal is to get right back where we were last year, but we’re not hung up on what people think we should do,” Olson said. “We’re just focusing on doing all the little things right and not taking any opponent or any game for granted.”
That attitude, along with the talent behind it, has helped Velazquez fit in quickly. A fleet and versatile lefthander who can hit in just about any place in the batting order, she knows that, despite her collegiate future, she won’t be counted upon to carry a heavy load.
“I’m very blessed to come to a team that’s this good,” she said. “I’m just one player and my goal is to help the team win.”
Velazquez acknowledged that moving to a new city and new school for her senior year was a nerve-racking experience.
“I miss Colorado but I think I’ve adapted to Minnesota very well,” she said. “It’s just like Colorado. I really like the atmosphere and the people are very nice. And I like the cold. I have a lot of hair and I feel weird in really hot weather. I like the cold, crisp air.”
When she first came to look at Chanhassen, the Storm veterans took Velazquez out to dinner, an eat-and-greet that helped ease nerves on both sides.
“The first time we visited, we took her out to dinner and told her about Chan,” Olson said. “When she got here, we made sure to invite her to all the team things. She meshes in well with us. We’re excited to have her.”
Velazquez said she felt accepted immediately. “We’re kind of like a family now,” she said.
Still, an intense battle with butterflies struck her before the opener against Cooper. They dissipated quickly, however, when she led off with a slap single to left.
She came around to score the game’s first run on a stolen base and two passed balls, giving Chanhassen a 1-0 lead with the No. 2 hitter still in the batter’s box.
“I was very nervous,” she said. “But I think I calmed down. I just told myself to have fun. I play better when I’m having fun.”