UCLA's Jenavee Peres Hopes To Inspire Other Moms This Season
Three months ago, if someone told Jenavee Peres that she would be a member of UCLA's softball team for the 2020 season, she would have been in disbelief.
That's because back in October, Peres' days of crushing softballs into oblivion were presumably over. The 22-year-old had just been hired as a security officer dispatcher, in addition to serving as a private hitting instructor, and had gotten into a comfortable routine with her then-16-month-old son, Levi.
But all of that changed in early November when Peres received a call out of the blue from Lisa Fernandez, a softball legend and current assistant coach for the Bruins. Fernandez asked Peres if she had any interest in earning a master's degree and utilizing her final season of NCAA eligibility in 2020 for UCLA, the reigning national champion.
"At first, I was a little hesitant about whether or not I wanted to take this opportunity because I had just recently gotten my first 'big-girl' job and I had gotten into a good rhythm with my son," Peres told Softball America during a phone interview. "But what motivated me to take the opportunity was to show my son that even though I took a year and a half off (from softball), I went back to it because I knew in the end it would benefit both of us.
"I want to show him that no matter what life throws at you, you can go back and finish what you started."
And what Peres started at San Diego State in 2015 was something special. Named the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year in 2015, she went on to become the conference’s Player of the Year as a junior in 2017 as well as the program’s first-ever Second Team All-American.
Peres, a catcher who completed her undergraduate degree at SDSU, took a medical redshirt year in 2018 to have her son and then did not play softball in 2019. She still ranks atop the Aztec record book in several offensive categories.
In addition to her college softball successes, Peres also has experience with the USA Softball program, as she was invited to the selection camp for the U.S. women's national team in 2016 and earned a spot on the U.S. junior women's national team in 2015. On a UCLA squad that lost two of its best bats in Rachel Garcia and Bubba Nickles to the U.S. Olympic softball team for the 2020 season, Peres will be a welcome addition.
"We are excited to have Jenavee accepted into our graduate program for Principles of Effective Coaching and Teaching," UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said in a statement. "She adds power to our lineup and great experience behind the plate, and she looks forward to pursuing her master's and competing with her teammates on the field."
Peres, who is currently taking a class at UCLA about leadership that is taught by former Bruins head coach Sue Enquist, says she hopes to bring a different perspective to UCLA's softball team this season.
"The main thing I want to leave with my teammates is that they are so much more than just softball players," Peres said. "There are so many things that they can take from softball into life after softball. In the end, it's not all about softball. It's how you're developing as a person.
"Don't miss out on yourself because you are so focused on softball. Develop yourself and come into who you are outside of softball."
Peres knows this life lesson because of her own personal development over the past few years and the varied experiences she's had since becoming pregnant. And those experiences aren't just limited to her mental and emotional growth. She's been tested physically as well.
"I had an emergency C-section when I gave birth and I recovered for an entire month afterward," Peres added. "I couldn't do anything because it was a different kind of pain than anything I've ever experienced. But it made me stronger mentally and has helped me to embrace the soreness I feel now from softball because I know I've been in unbearable pain before."
For Peres, that sort of toughness is what she hopes will both carry her through this coming season with the Bruins and inspire other athlete-mothers to return to their respective sports after giving birth.
"A lot of women tend to get lost in being moms and I definitely did for a while," said Peres. "A message I definitely want to send to other women is that it's possible (to return to your sport). You are more than just a mom. You are your own person and you still need time for yourself and something to call yours. And that's OK."
Peres says that two mothers who are now in close proximity to her each day share this same belief. Those moms are her UCLA coaches, Inouye-Perez and Fernandez, who told Peres they are willing to be flexible if things come up outside of softball that cause her to have to miss team events. She is also allowed to bring her son with her to practice if she ever needs to.
"They told me they want me to make an everlasting impact on the program," Peres stated. "They always remind me that they have my back and they understand that life is more than just softball. The program's mantra is 'family, school, softball' in terms of priorities, so they keep instilling that in me and assure me that it's OK if something comes up."
With the full support of her family, coaching staff and teammates, Peres is ready for her final softball chapter to begin on Feb. 6, when UCLA opens its 2020 season at home against CSU Bakersfield.
"It's very exciting to be able to go back and have life be all about softball and school again," said Peres, who hopes to become a 911 dispatcher after she earns her master's degree and completes her playing career. "I'm looking forward to just being able to get back to playing and bringing my son along with me to finish off what I started."