The Razorback softball team returns many familiar faces from last year’s NCAA tournament team, but one player stands out among the rest because of her vast experience playing the sport.
Senior shortstop A.J. Belans will return after finishing third on the team with a .295 batting average and third on the team in home runs with eight. She was also a defensive anchor, tied for ninth in the Southeastern Conference in assists at any position with 131.
Belans was a multi-sport athlete in high school and took up softball at a young age because she wanted to follow in her dad’s footsteps, she said.
Belans realized softball would be her way to get a scholarship into college, but her enjoyment of the game was the main reason, she said.
“I really just fell in love with it from a young age and took it and ran with it,” Belans said. “Once I realized I truly loved the game, it became my main focus.”
Belans was a two-time state champion at American Heritage High School in Hollywood, Florida, during her sophomore and senior year. In her senior year, she hit .527 with eight home runs and 37 RBI and was named Florida’s Class 5A Player of the Year.
From high school, she went to play at Florida International. In two years, she had 55 runs and 56 RBIs. She was named to the 2015 Conference USA All-Freshman team and was named to the 2016 Conference USA All-Second team as a sophomore. In 2016, she batted .390 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs.
After her sophomore year, Belans decided to transfer in an attempt to find more of a challenge.
“I wanted to play at a higher level, and I knew I had the ability to,” Belans said. “With the transfer process, I just kind of got lucky and Coach Deifel took a chance on me and now I’m here.”
There are different things a player can do to improve in his or her sport, and Belans thinks her biggest improvements have come in areas that can’t be quantified on the field, she said.
“I think the maturation process is what’s gotten me as far as I have,” Belans said. “Obviously, you have to love the game and want to be there, but you have to be mature enough to know what your body needs, exactly what you need to do to make sure you can continue to play at the level you want to play.”
Belans has enjoyed the times with her teammates more than individual accolades, she said.
“My favorite memories are when the team is just coming together and fighting together.” Belans said. “I have a few selfish moments, but really my favorites are when we come together as a team and fight.”
Razorback senior outfielder Loren Krzysko said Belans has been more than just a great teammate.
“I know she will fight for me and wish me until the end,” Krzysko said. “Even though she doesn’t show her passion and emotion most times, she is extremely passionate for the sport and for the girls. She is the swaggiest player alive.”
Senior outfielder Tori Cooper said Belans’ competitive nature is what sets her apart.
“It’s really fun to get to be on the same side as her during competition, because I know she will always have our backs,” Cooper said.
Belans and the Razorbacks will kick off its season at the Lion Classic against Kennesaw State University at 3 p.m. Feb. 7 in Hammond, Louisiana.