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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

Meet Lexi Orozco, Irish softball’s newest slugger and leader

As Notre Dame softball prepares to begin ACC play, head coach Deanna Gumpf is stressing one big theme: belief. For graduate infielder Lexi Orozco, belief has carved out a special career. By joining the Irish after a four-year stint at Utah State, Orozco sought out a special type of challenge. In her teammates, coaches and the overall environment of ND softball, she has found exactly what she was looking for.

Growing up in San Marcos, California, Orozco’s support system set her up for success. Her mother, Angela, also played softball in her youth and encouraged Lexi and her four siblings to be active. At the same time, she showed them the meaning of empathy, forming a lasting image of leadership in Orozco’s mind.

“She has always taught me to understand those around you, and understand the person that sits in the jersey rather than the jersey itself,” Orozco said. “At the end of the day, we’re people, and performance doesn’t dictate the person that stands in that jersey.”

Orozco also quickly befriended current Irish graduate pitcher Payton Tidd, a fellow San Marcos native. Tidd’s family became an important link as Orozco navigated the recruiting process. Long before the two ever led San Marcos High School to a state title, their college offers began rolling in. At age thirteen, Orozco had narrowed her search to Utah and Utah State, ultimately committing to the latter. 

“I think what led me to Utah State as a 13-year-old, and I tell this story to everyone, is that it came down to the decision of wearing Nike or Under Armour, and I told my dad I wanted to wear Nike,” she said. “From an early age, I knew that Utah State was right for me because it checked everything off with my 13-year-old brain.”

Though Orozco may now sheepishly look back on the decision, it turned out to be a good one. As a freshman, she logged 46 starts. By the end of her four years in Logan, she had played 169 games as the Aggies’ primary shortstop. 

“There were a lot of older girls in front of me, and the only thing I knew that I could rely on was to compete and compete respectfully,” Orozco said. “I think that’s what landed me where I was for my whole career. I never looked back once I kept moving forward through all the ups and downs.”

In Orozco’s case, the ups were numerous. During her illustrious career, she set or tied Aggie records for RBI (138), slugging percentage (.631) and home runs (39). Orozco earned a First-Team All-Mountain West selection in 2019, following it up with an NCFA Division I Third Team All-Region honor in 2022. With four magnificent seasons behind her, Orozco knew she could thrive anywhere heading into her graduate season.

That “anywhere” was originally supposed to be a lot closer to the San Diego area. Even as coach Gumpf welcomed her for a visit, Orozco had doubts about nearly tripling her distance from home. However, while reflecting on her trip to South Bend, Orozco drew two powerful conclusions.

“I realized that a year of my life is worth challenging myself to the fullest of extents,” she remembered. “Once I decided that I was going to step onto Notre Dame’s campus, I knew I’d be happy here if I wasn’t playing.”

With that, Orozco was off to Notre Dame, a program on a 23-year NCAA tournament appearance streak. Her transition has been marked by overwhelming support from her head coach, her lifelong friend and everyone in between. Orozco has also felt much more at ease within the Irish batting order. While she often had to play hero ball at Utah State, the slugger now sits within an offense that led the ACC in batting average a year ago.

“I knew that I was going to have to compete hard because this program has talent across the board, and it excites me,” Orozco said. “It’s so amazing to have the opportunity to sit in the middle of that lineup because I know that three girls in front of me or one girl behind me will get the job done no matter what.”

Orozco has used that peace of mind to contribute early and often at the plate. Three weeks into the season, she leads the Irish with three homers and 12 RBI. Among her many tools, timely hitting has perhaps been her strongest to start the campaign. On February 17, Orozco helped Notre Dame win its Big Ten and ACC Challenge opener by launching a go-ahead, three-run blast in the fourth inning. Then, on Friday, she completed a six-run comeback with a three-run, game-tying shot against UT Martin. Her talent has stood out, but her leadership also hasn’t gone without notice.

“She’s just a great person and she fit so well right away,” Coach Gumpf remarked. “She just jumped on board and truly understands what this place is all about. I’m super, super proud of her.”

Of course, coming to Notre Dame means playing in the ACC, one of the strongest leagues in the sport. As she prepares to visit Duke for her first conference series this weekend, Orozco is focused on taking in all the little things.

“Being able to go see the university, smell the freshair in an ACC stadium, and put on my jersey and step into a conference game for the first time is just something that really excites me,” she said.

With a firm belief in Notre Dame’s potential, Orozco is all-in for her teammates. She strives to repay their support by sharing each and every moment with them.

“I just never ever want to disappoint any person that I’m in the presence of,” she said. “These girls have welcomed me with open arms, and I hope that I can walk away never disappointing them with my leadership, with my abilities performance-wise and as a friend.”