People who compete in athletics are often creatures of habit — prisoners of preparation and routine — often by design.
Maybe they take the same amount of practice swings, bounce the basketball a certain number of times before attempting a free throw or any number of other things to feel like things are in the proper place.
"I'm not one for change," said University of New Mexico softball player D’Andra DeFlora.
This is not something a lot of people might readily admit, but like most student-athletes, she started her collegiate career by making one of the biggest changes of her life — leaving home.
DeFlora, an engineering major pursuing a degree in construction management, is a Texas native and had a couple of options available to her before she made the decision to attend UNM. She made the decision about four years ago, but still sounded pretty confident about the choice when recounting why she made it.
"The environment around campus and the people that were willing to help so quickly," DeFlora said. "I was just appreciative of that and that (experience) made me want to come here."
Four years later, there has been a lot of change. Enduring losing seasons, switching positions in her sport and getting accustomed to new coaches are just some of the additional things that got thrown onto the heap for DeFlora.
Some inspirations for DeFlora that kept the spark to get things done include her favorite athlete and movie.
She said her favorite player has always been Derek Rose, a current NBA player. Rose was a budding superstar when he won the league's Most Valuable Player award in 2011 as a Chicago Bull, but never really seemed to recover from multiple injuries and regain his form. He played in just 50 games combined over the previous three seasons.
Rose overcame adversity and scored a career-high 50 points for the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this season.This was an improbable feat that likely inspired many people and drove the 11-year NBA veteran to choke back tears in the post-game interview.
DeFlora's favorite movie "Hidden Figures" is a film based on true events that exhibited the perseverance of the people to overcome barriers constantly. She said, for the most part, they didn't react to things and just did what they needed to do.
"I related (Hidden Figures) to life in general," DeFlora said. "There are going to be so many obstacles in life that you have to go over — so why stop? You'll eventually have to learn how to get over them.."
So perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that no obstacle DeFlora faced has knocked her off the path.
Andrea Pierson, a student success manager at UNM, said the softball player's commitment and dedication are a testament to how far having a positive attitude can take you.
Peirson said DeFlora experienced a death in the family in sophomore year and said it could have been easy for someone in that position to give up or move on. However, change and adversity don't appear to derail DeFlora .
DeFlora said she has probably had eight or nine coaches. Even though many of them have left to pursue another opportunity, they have stayed in contact with her and continue to provide support from a distance DeFlora said.
She started each of the past two seasons in left field, but was asked to switch over to play center field. DeFlora, a two-sport athlete in high school, showed the versatility needed to cover a large amount of ground in the outfield. She has a 97% fielding percentage and is registering a career-high this season.
The center fielder said she didn't know the reasons why she was asked to move — she just welcomed the challenge and did what was needed to help the team.
That kind of attitude is what second-year head coach Paula Congleton took note of right away. She referred to DeFlora as "Little D" and described her as the "spirit stick" for the team — an emotional leader that brings the energy no matter what the situation is.
"She's little, but she packs a powerful punch," Congleton said. "She's like our little dynamite."
Congleton said DeFlora has a unique ability to face adversity and exemplifies the type of culture she and her staff are trying to build.
The head coach said she knows what it means embrace the pack mentality. Congleton said DeFlora, a Scholar Athlete recipient, has done that both on the field and in the classroom, applying her fast, aggressive, all-out play to both.
Pierson credited DeFlora not only for her dedication toward being a good teammate and student, but for bringing the fun along with her.
"She's one of those people that provides non-stop laughter despite the pressures she is under with softball, school and personal life," Pierson said. "She's the funniest person in the room."
DeFlora played basketball in high school and is still an avid hacky sack enthusiast. She has other talents outside of sports as well. She said one thing that most people probably don't know about her is that she can play seven musical instruments.
She said her favorites to play are the piano or the drums — depending on her mood. One thing that seems to be a consensus is DeFlora's commitment to school. Pierson said a Scholar Athlete at UNM is required to achieve a 3.2 cumulative GPA at the end of the fall semester as the softball standout has hit that benchmark every year since she started attending.
Pierson said that isn't easy to do, especially considering she is an ngineering student. She said her degree program is intense and a lot of work goes into it.It requires students to be extremely dedicated.
"They were here for eight class days in February, so that she is able to balance all of that, still be a Scholar Athlete and still be on track to graduate, it's all incredible," she said.
DeFlora is on track to earn her bachelor's degree in the fall and Pierson said she is planning to stick around and start her master's program.
DeFlora said if she had one piece of advice to those pursuing a degree, it would be to "keep pushing." She said things might seem hard in the beginning, but that is only because people want it to be easy. And all the hard work students put in the classroom now is what makes it easier on later on when they begin to apply those skills in life.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler