Last year’s Magnolia Lady Bulldogs restored a little bit of the program’s rich tradition in softball with a long playoff journey off of a fourth place finish in District 19-5A.
Magnolia returns plenty of talent from that team, but also returns another piece of the past to its program. Angela Gonzales-Cooper, a 2000 graduate of the school and a member of the 1999 state championship team, takes over the reigns this season as head coach.
Gonzales-Cooper was named head coach after Jarrod Hunter, the Lady Bulldogs’ coach the past two years, moved on to the same position at Rockwall-Heath.
“I think it’s really been spectacular just kind of getting acquainted with the staff and the girls,” Gonzales-Cooper said in a recent phone interview. “It’s been a really smooth transition.”
Gonzales-Cooper has a decorated past with the game of softball, but admits that the path to coaching her alma mater wasn’t the usual path.
“It’s not your typical journey,” she said.
After graduating from Magnolia, Gonzales-Cooper put together a tremendous four-year playing career at East Texas Baptist University that resulted in a a selection to the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2018. Gonzales-Cooper was a three-time All-American, a two-time American Southwest Conference Player of the Year and was the NCAA Division III Catcher of the Year her senior season.
Gonzales-Cooper began her coaching career with East Texas Baptist before a two-year stint at Lexintgon High School. After a couple years away from coaching, she returned at Concordia University for three more years. After giving berth to her daughter, Gonzales-Cooper once again stepped away from the game to focus on being a mom.
Over the years, Gonzales-Cooper has stayed close to her passion by scouting for recruiting services, giving lessons and clinics as well as conducting camps.
As recent as a decade ago, Gonzales-Cooper drew interest from Magnolia and her former coach Renee Bialas to come back to the school to teach and coach.
With her daughter now at school age, it was the perfect time.
“Getting to come back and lead a program that has a lot of tradition of excellence has been really awesome,” Gonzales-Cooper said.
Magnolia went to the Region III-5A quarterfinals last year after grabbing the last playoff spot in a difficult district. The Lady Bulldogs hadn’t been that far in the playoffs since 2014.
Back are some key contributors from that team.
“I feel like we have six solid seniors,” Gonzales-Cooper said. “I feel like they all can contribute to our team. They all lead in different ways and at different positions. I think that’s going to be key for us is leadership.”
Baylee Lemons, a Texas State signee, returns as the District 19-5A Offensive MVP. She batted .485 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs.
“I look to Baylee having another standout year,” Gonzales-Cooper said.
Skylar Shanahan, a Blinn Junior College signeee, returns in the circle and will be looked upon even more as Magnolia lost some depth at pitcher.
“She’s really had to step up and really command,” Gonzales-Cooper said. “I think she really had a great fall.”
Shanahan will be throwing to catcher Alex Dubose, a second-team All-Montgomery County selection. Another second-team All-Montgomery County returnee is infielder Madison Nguyen. Both Dubose and Nguyen are signed with Stephen F. Austin.
Julia Herzinger, a McLennan Community College signee, is back after an injury her junior year and Lyndsey Gleason also returns as a senior leader.
Jamison Holder was The Courier’s Newcomer of the Year and returns for her junior year after hitting .457 with seven homers and 37 RBIs as as sophomore.
Magnolia also has juniors Gabrielle Huetter and Caitlyn Stevens returning.
“We’ve talked in the beginning and the success that they had,” Gonzales-Cooper said. “I think we have set our goals even higher this year. We’re capable of winning a district championship and I think that’s really No. 1 on our list.”
The Lady Bulldogs were 25-9 overall last season and will contend once again with the likes of College Station, A&M Consolidated, Waller, Brenham, Katy Paetow, Bryan Rudder and, of course, rival Magnolia West.
“Every high school team is definitely after a state championship,” Gonzales-Cooper said. “I think we have the caliber to do that. We definitely want to make sure that we stay healthy and focused and we can endure a long season for sure.”