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Vanessa M. Hernandez at practice recently. She's teamed with another softball player with her same name.

Vanessa M. Hernandez knew several years ago this softball season could bring some confusion to the Fresno State program.

The cause is another Vanessa M. Hernandez, well known in Sanger circles as one of the standouts on Apache coach Erica Pennington’s always competitive teams. Amongst the Bulldogs, who are shooting for a conference title, the newcomer gets referred to as Little Nessa. 

But that’s somewhat confusing, too. Sanger’s Vanessa is taller at 5-foot-10 than center fielder Vanessa from Hesperia High who is 5-foot-6. On the official roster, Little Nessa is the Vanessa without the M.

Not that it matters to the two mostly affected

“We’re buddies,” Big Nessa said. 

And she said she knew of Little Nessa since Sanger’s Vanessa committed to Fresno State early in her high school career. She played varsity since she was a freshman at Sanger High, graduating last year.

“I’m used to it,” Big Nessa said. She’s in her fifth year, having redshirted her first.

The pair, in addition to the name thing, are apparently fast friends and also talked about the upcoming season under coach Linda Garza, now in her third year guiding the Bulldogs. The team had a preseason media day at Margie Wright Diamond on Jan. 29. The team kicks off the season against No. 1 ranked UCLA, last year’s defending NCAA champions, at the Hawaii Paradise Classic in Honolulu on Feb. 7.

To the question of playing to win this season, Big Nessa said, “Oh yeah. Totally.” And on Little Nessa, she added, “So much fun to be around. So much talent.”

And Little Nessa, who didn’t look the part standing next to her name twin, said Big Nessa has taken her under her wing.

Little Nessa called her teammates “fun and energetic. It’s easy to fit in because they’re all weird like me.” Of coach Garza, she added, “She makes me better on the field. She believes in me and gives me confidence.”

Big Nessa, one of the team leaders, was the first after Garza to be interviewed by the various television journalists gathered in the corner of the stands that day. But before her turn in front of the live-action cameras, she posed for a photo with Little Nessa.

Garza said she has full confidence in her players, especially her Nessas, and intends to win it all. “We’re going to use that old-fashioned work ethic,” she said. “We’re going to do everything we can. We play one of the top teams right out of the gale. Let’s go and do it. Our goal is to go to the post season.”

Infielder Rachel Minogue said regardless of UCLA’s ranking her Bulldogs will try to knock them from their perch. “We’re seen as the underdog,” she said. “And that helps. For me, it’s better.” She said her team’s lineup has quite a few players who can deliver. The key, she said, is “staying consistent throughout the season.”

And catcher Haileigh Galvan, who was a standout for the Bulldogs last season, said the Red Wave fan base energizes her to play her best. Hailey is one of three with her first name. There are also pitcher Hailey Dolcini and infielder Haley Fuller. To make it more confusing, there’s Bailey Clifton, listed as a utility player.

Pitcher Danielle East said her team has the talent. “It’s happening,” she said.

Little Nessa said she’s fitting in as she prepares to begin her first season as a Bulldog. “I came in with a Sanger mentality,” she said, defining that as “you have to work twice as hard. And it’s just another reason to work twice as hard for Sanger and my family.”

She said days are busy with classes starting early and practice every day sometimes continuing late. She said Pennington told her what to expect and “how it was going to be” so she’s hardly mentally unprepared.

And she’s looking forward to the Hawaii trip. “I’ve never traveled,” Little Nessa said. “Now we get to play the No. 1 team in the nation. We’re playing to win, of course. Nothing’s easy.”

And Big Nessa is determined to build a legacy. “I definitely want that third ring,” she said.

The reporter can be contacted by email at nemethfeatures@gmail.com or by phone at the Herald at (559) 875-2511.

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