Maryland softball walked through the town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, enjoying the local restaurants and sunny weather with their eyes agape at the sights of a foreign country. A sudden clucking noise drew the team’s attention and sent many of them scurrying.
Coach Mark Montgomery laughed at the memory of his grown players running at the first sight of wild chickens pecking at their feet.
Senior Trinity Schlotterbeck stayed composed though, Montgomery recalled, because she’d been there before.
The Terps chose to play in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, in part because most of the team hadn’t been out of the country before.
Schlotterbeck was one of the few who had. She had been to Mexico twice before, visiting Mazatlán in high school.
The senior dominated on the diamond in Puerto Vallarta, winning games against North Dakota State and Brigham Young University. Schlotterbeck threw 10.4 innings, allowing only four runs in the challenge.
She also helped her teammates off of the field. Her trip to Mexico helped Schlotterbeck better understand the experience of traveling abroad.
Schlotterbeck attended Saint James School in western Maryland. The private school, despite having a small student body, has students from 30 countries and 20 states.
“I definitely am super grateful for that small high school though, because I met so many people from around the world,” Schlotterbeck said.
Chris Schlotterbeck, Trinity Schlotterbeck’s father and high school softball coach, saw his daughter mature as a leader on the field by helping her teammates learn the game.
Schlotterbeck was the star pitcher and a Division I commit but needed her fielders to know how to get a runner out. With her experience, Schlotterbeck could help new players learn the rules of the game and basic catching and throwing techniques.
“Here’s Trinity [Schlotterbeck], a D1 athlete that can do everything on the softball field, but six of her other players have never played the sport before,” Chris Schlotterbeck said. “She was as much a player-coach as she was a player.”
Schlotterbeck’s first trip outside of the country came during her sophomore year. She took a mission trip to Mazatlán.
She returned to the Mexican town in her senior year of high school. It would be four years before she left the United States again.
The next time came with the Terps in early February. Only about four players had ever left the country before the tournament, including Schlotterbeck. The senior took it upon herself to show her teammates the importance of immersing themselves in another country’s culture.
One of the most important moments in the trip came when the team went to a local elementary school. The Terps were hesitant to engage with the students at first, Schlotterbeck said. But she encouraged Keira Bucher — the team’s only Spanish speaker — to translate for them.
It wasn’t long before the team had broken off into smaller circles with the children.
“A lot of people were just having fun with it, going with the flow, just playing with these kids that don’t even understand what we’re saying,” Schlotterbeck recalled.
The Terps emerged from the tournament with a positive record. They went 4-1, including defeating then-No. 3 Oklahoma State and then-No. 22 Oregon.
Montgomery came away from the weekend impressed with his team beyond just the record. Seeing them away from the habitual routine of practice and competition was a welcome experience for the coach.
“It really is neat seeing all their eyes open to the different culture and growth of that,” he said.
Despite the success, the trip was bittersweet for Schlotterbeck. When some Mazatlán residents learned Maryland was coming to Mexico, they contacted her and were disappointed to hear she couldn’t return.
Still, Schlotterbeck recalls her trip to Mazatlán as one where she developed a better understanding of the world around her.
“I just think that people need to realize there’s more to life than them,” she said. “Just trying to take those … blinders off and just look around you and be that light.”