“Whatever happens, just have fun,” Marisa Arriaga repeated in her head as Sam Smith blasted through her headphones.
This was Arriaga’s pre-game ritual for the 2020 softball season. That was before life as she knew it was brought to a screeching halt at the hands of COVID-19. No one would have ever expected life to be put on hold the way it has, especially not student-athletes.
Until now, the biggest challenge SFA outfielder Arriaga faced as a student-athlete was missing classes due to travel.
“Right now, the hardest thing with all this going on is not being able to play, just because we worked so hard in the fall, and we had such a strong team coming in,” Arriaga said in a crackling voice over video chat, the new medium for meetings during this time of social distancing.
This season, Arriaga said she started out strong. She said she was in the right headspace and physical health for the first time. The Ladyjacks were 19-4, 3-0 SLC and had just won their 13th game in a row against Texas Southern University on March 10. Arriaga had a batting average of .383, hitting 23 out of 60 at bats and scoring 16 runs so far through the season. Then, everything was canceled. There is no telling how the Ladyjacks would have fared had the season gone on.
As a kid, Arriaga’s parents let her try everything. According to Arriaga, they would tell her, “Whatever you want, whatever you love, whatever makes you happy. That’s what you’re going to do.” She says her number one priority has always been getting her education and having fun while cherishing moments and memories made along the way.
Arriaga has always been academically inclined. She attended Townview School of Health Professions in Cedar Hill and aspires to attend dental school and become an oral surgeon. Townview is academically focused and doesn’t offer sports, so Arriaga commuted daily to Cedar Hill High School after school to practice. This busy schedule led her to learn time management skills, which have carried her to college where she is the self-proclaimed “nerd on the team,” majoring in pre-dental biology.
Arriaga is considered a “late-bloomer” in softball, starting at 11 years old while most of her teammates started at four. Arriaga played three sports competitively at the same time: volleyball, soccer and softball. Being 5-foot-4-inches tall, Arriaga quickly ruled out volleyball, while cutting soccer because there was “too much running.” Meanwhile, softball had everything she was looking for. It is a team sport while on defense with an individual aspect through batting, which allowed Arriaga a chance in the spotlight.
Arriaga began her collegiate career at Texas Women’s University in Denton. She quickly found it was not the best fit for her or what she was looking for in a team, so she decided to transfer.
“Yes, I love softball, but I was looking for a family to grow in, and I just felt like I wasn't growing personally, so I decided to transfer,” Arriaga said.
One of her old club coaches pointed her in SFA coach Nicole Dixon’s direction, which led her to Nacogdoches, where she found the built-in family she’d been looking for.
“It’s just a love of the game that really drives us,” Arriaga said. “You can’t do what we do without loving what you do. You really have to love it because it’s hard. The love for your teammates also just keeps you going. You know you have a common goal at the end; you know you want to win. And you know you have to work hard for it.”
Regardless of if she is on the bench or on the field, Arriaga is the loudest in the game. Last season, her sophomore year, Arriaga was benched for a majority of the season with a broken foot. However, her mindset was that even if she couldn’t play, she was going to lose her voice every game cheering on her SFA family.
“No matter if I play or not, no matter if I’m starting, I’m going to be steady for my teammates,” Arriaga said. “I am [their] number one fan.”
Looking to the future, Arriaga has plans to apply for dental school and has an internship lined up in Dallas this summer as a current registered dental assistant. She says she has high hopes for next season, and after graduation would love to stay around softball as much as possible. Regardless of what the future holds, we can all take a page from Arriaga’s book: Whatever happens, happens; we might as well have fun with it.