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Raina's Return: The Journey Back to Centerfield

O'Neal prepares for first game in 353 days
Raina O'Neal practice catch.jpg
Posted at 11:49 PM, Feb 09, 2022

When Raina O'Neal originally moved from Texas Tech to UL softball in 2018, she had to sit out a season due to transfer rules. Then in 2020, she was having a career year before the pandemic shut the season down.

2021 also presented challenges for O'Neal. But through her setbacks, she is now ready to shine.

"This week I've been doing a little reflecting, because when you think about it how I've played 2 years in 5 (seasons)," O'Neal said while laughing.

It's all smiles now for the Louisiana outfielder, as she gets ready for opening day. But the joy comes from the journey to reach this point.

"I'm super excited. For me its been awhile. So, you get those first time jitters again."

The Texas native was among the Cajuns top home run sluggers in 2019 and 20. But only 6 games into 2021, her season was derailed by a wrist injury.

"When it happened I just remember my hand and my wrist area burning," O'Neal described. "I had no idea what that meant. And then, when I saw a doctor and realized how long it was going to take, that just made it more disappointing."

The diagnosis was a broken wrist that would keep her out for over 2 months. The timeline fit perfectly for a potential return in regionals. But the timing never matched.

"I was trying to force things. I was trying to force myself to feel better and be able to catch and hit so I can come back in time for postseason to contribute," O'Neal explained. "That was the hardest part for me cause I was pushing myself. I had to sit down and realize, 'you're not ready.'"

O'Neal made her return to full team activities during fall practice, but her rehab couldn't be complete until she regained her confidence on defense.

"I spent a lot of time being hesitant. Like there was a ball, there was an opportunity I would have to dive for the ball. I would like stutter step or drop to my knees before just going first. Once I did it right the first time, it was good."

The junior will be back in centerfield Friday, where she belongs. But more importantly, she again gets to lead through actions, and not just words.

"I'm excited to play and then be in that role of being a leader," O'Neal exclaimed. "Being able to help, because we have a lot of new faces, and try to help sort everything out and get us going."

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