Sophomore Naiara Moses carries on her family’s participation in softball by playing on the El Salvador Women’s National team years after her grandmother competed on the same stage.
It’s not typical for a Division III athlete to be featured on a national stage, much less as a member of the starting lineup. It’s not typical to see an athlete transform from a “late bloomer” in a sport to a competitor at the highest level. It’s not typical to witness an athlete break through the barriers of shyness and introversion to become a charismatic and integral part of a team. But Naiara Moses is no typical athlete.
A sophomore at Pacific University, Moses is a current player on the boxer women’s softball team. She spent her past summer competing at the highest level for the El Salvador Women’s National Team in the Central American and Caribbean Games. Historically speaking, Boxer Athletics has had great success on the national stage, with athletes like Julianna Ventura and Ethan Moss playing at the professional level of their respective sports. But for Moses, this success was much deeper than a chance to continue to excel in her sport. It also gave her a chance to connect with her roots and play for her mother’s home country.
Moses began her softball career at the age of 11, a relatively late start in the world of competitive athletics. She humorously reflects she was just a “late bloomer” in the world of softball, especially after watching her father’s involvement in the sport. “My dad plays in a men’s league, so I took an interest in softball at a really late age actually.”
Her father had played baseball his entire life, including his involvement in the men’s league while Moses was growing up, so the sport was a way to deepen their bond and see each other in a new light. Her father was the person to push her to try the sport, which sparked a new passion in her. “He was really proud of me when I chose to try softball,” she recalled. “It made me happy to connect more with him through the sport.”
As a child, Moses had a tendency to lose interest and bounce between sports. She recalled her time as a dancer, swimmer, and soccer player all within a few years before she chose softball. “If I’m being honest, I did swim for about three years. I hit a point where I just didn’t want to do it anymore – it had lost its appeal,” She laughed. “Dancing and soccer were the same way. Dancing honestly felt like more of a hobby than a sport. Softball just stuck.”
She couldn’t quite put into words what exactly drove her to stick with softball for so long. Struggling to simplify the significance of the family connection, desire to be the best, and continued enjoyment in practices, she finally decided: “It’s just the love of the game that drives me.”
Moses played recreational softball from the age of 11 to 18, and competed for two years as a member of her high school’s varsity team. This time exposed her to the culture of team sports and showed her the value of high-level competition. She recalls this time as her first experience as a “real” athlete, rather than just “a kid trying out new sports.” The student-athlete life appealed to Naiara and eventually brought her to Pacific. “I chose to play in college because I didn’t want it all to end in high school. Even though I already played, I didn’t want to retire after only playing two years in high school. I remember watching college softball on TV and thinking ‘oh that’s so impressive. I want to do that too.’”
Pacific was the perfect home for her to continue at the next level, and she noted how the small feel and strong support from the Pacific community all helped her reach her fullest potential on and off the field. “Going forward to start a career, Pacific made an easier pathway than the other schools I had to choose from. The campus is really pretty,” she paused, “plus it’s a way to get out of the California heat” she laughed.
Moses’ decision to play at the next level was what brought her to the professional level of play. She explained how her mother approached her about joining the El Salvador team after watching Moses’ skill and dedication mature on the diamond. The El Salvador team offered Moses the chance to find a deeper connection to her family’s roots, and relive some experiences her grandmother had. “Playing for the El Salvador team was very special. It felt like I was representing my mom’s side of the family. My Grandma had played on the national team, so it was really cool to continue her legacy.”
Moses also felt the experience gave her a new perspective on her parent’s journey, and shifted the lens she had previously viewed them through. “I think I realized how much sacrifice they went through to get where they are.”
She elaborated that the team pushed her to face new challenges both in level of play and the intensity she brings to team events in general. She revealed that they played against athletes from every level, including other NCAA athletes ranging from Division I to Division III schools. The differences between international competition and D-III college softball forced her to adapt very quickly. “The way they play over there is so much different than here,” Moses emphasizes.
She explained how her summer was consumed with team lifts, team meetings, and practices at a completely different level. The routine was similar to life as an in-season athlete at Pacific, but the rigor brought to each event elevated the intensity to the next level. Once she was in the athlete village and game play began, she found an easier routine and enjoyed her trip. “It actually starts like the Olympics…with the teams entering an athlete-only ‘Olympic’ village” Moses clarified. They generally eat breakfast as a team, go to their rooms to get ready for the game, board the team bus and drive from the village to the pitch, practice before competing, then play whichever team they were against that particular night. Post-game they would get food and head back to the village before heading to bed for the night. Then that routine repeated again, for the whole eight day stay in Cuba.
Coming in as the new girl and the youngest posed even more challenges for Moses. She admitted that she struggled with feeling like a burden to the program, and how she had to push past her self-critical tendencies to turn her mental game around. She expressed how by fighting through these hardships she found a new side to herself: an outgoing, confident, and resilient side.
Moses sighted the experience as a learning lesson, where she learned more about herself, her family, and her sport. Though she admits she doesn’t see herself repeating the experience, she proudly states she gained a lot from her time in the program, and that she doesn’t regret doing it at all. When reflecting on her journey from recreational league to the national team, Moses had some advice for her younger self: “Be more confident in yourself. I think she would be really surprised how far she has come and how hard she worked. I learned to have more confidence in myself and just have fun.” — Rose Everingham