WAELDER — Opportunity knocked on her door and she opened it.
On Monday, May 14, multi-sport athlete Malorie Puente penned her name on the letter of intent document, officially cemented her spot as a college athlete as she signed on to compete in track and field for the Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
After a successful run to the Region 4-1A track meet, Puente was recruited to compete in the shot put, though the Javelinas may have her take on the hammer throw as well as the javelin.
“It’s a long process, a process worth waiting for,” the Waelder Wildcat said of signing with the Javelinas. “You start at the bottom and now you’re at the top. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Admittedly, Puente had her eyes set at playing basketball, which should come as a surprise to no one who knows her based on her dedication to the sport. But when A&M Kingsville offered her scholarships in both basketball and track, Puente decided she couldn’t pass up the track scholarship opportunity, so she stuck with throwing in field events instead of shooting a basketball.
“With basketball being literally all season starting at the beginning of the semester, I wanted to focus on my academics,” Puente explained, “so track begins mid-February for A&M for the college level, so with that being said, I’d like to focus and get my GPA up my first semester so my second semester I already know the groove of what’s going on.”
The four-year varsity letterman said reaching a personal best 37 feet in the shot put is what impressed her new coaches the most. Puente won the District 30-1A shot put event, then later won the area meet with her throw of 35-1 7/8. Unfortunately, she didn’t reach her PR at the Region 4-1A track meet, though if she did she could have advanced to state.
“They told me for being a 1A [athlete], for me throwing a 37 is remarkably well compared to 4As who are throwing 39s or 38s,” Puente noted.
At the recent state meet, throwing 37 feet would have placed Puente fourth in Class 1A, fourth in Class 2A, sixth in Class 3A and eighth in Class 4A.
Nonetheless, being the first Lady Wildcat to sign to play college athletics in over a decade is a big accomplishment for not only Puente but the Waelder girls athletics program that has had a rotating door of coaches before Martha Zuniga was hired as a head coach in 2016, then later named athletic director earlier this year.
“The biggest thing is Malorie set some standards for girls athletics here in Waelder,” Zuniga said. “She’s gone out of her way to help not only herself but her teammates and the younger generation. She’s always in this gym, she’s always pushing her teammates and the reason I had them witness her signing today is because I think it’ll push the rest of the girl athletes to reach for bigger things. That’s what I’m here to do, to get these girls to understand they can go outside of Waelder and there are other things they can do. Their talents don’t need to be overlooked. That’s the biggest thing. I think them seeing Malorie today will push them to want to try and push them to want to go to the next level.”
Being overlooked was definitely on Puente’s mind the day of her signing. The Lady Wildcats aren’t necessarily respected around the area, and the girls know this. Zuniga hopes that Puente’s signing not only puts some respect on their name, but it raises the standard for the next generation of athletes for Waelder.
“Losing Malorie is some big shoes to fill and I’m not going to lie, I’ll miss her to death, but her work ethic has set standards here and a lot of the girls, especially the younger ones, they’re like, ‘I want to be like that, I want to be like Malorie, I want to work,’” Zuniga said. “She just sets a great example and that’s the biggest thing is that she’s set the example and it’s going to stick around.”
“Honestly it’s extremely important for me, setting an example for everybody else,” Puente admitted. “My teammate Bri [Brejhai Montgomery] is going to be a senior next year. I know she has a lot of potential and I’m pretty sure she’ll be signing next year. She’s just following in my footsteps and that’s what I want, I want other people to follow in my footsteps, I want to lead by example.”
Other colleges had some interest in Puente, but the Lady Wildcat decided to stick with A&M Kingsville after taking a visit.
“The Latino culture, it stood out to me, so much,” she said. “As soon as I was there, I already knew I was home.”
Puente has her eyes set at nationals for her junior and senior years, but before getting there she wants to place in conference.
“I want to at least place in conference. Third place is fine with me, I’m there, I can say I did that,” Puente chuckled. “I’m from a 1A, from Waelder, something that’s very unexpected. Waelder is the most talked-down town, the way I see it, with our academic system people think we don’t have the best of it but you got to make the best of it.”
After her college career is over, Puente envisions a future where she returns back to her roots and is a part of the coaching program here in Waelder, perhaps under Zuniga.
“I understand that we have a lot of coaches coming in and out and that’s what really takes away from the girls program because coaches don’t give us a chance and I know how that is,” Puente said. “I feel like with me coming back I can relate to almost every student here and I know almost every student here, it’s a small school. That’s what I look forward to do after college, just coming back.”
“I’m excited to see where she goes in four years,” Zuniga said. “if she’ll be back to be a part of my coaching staff, because I told her she’s always welcomed back and I don’t plan on going anywhere from Waelder unless they kick me out. It’s a big thing. Her commitment and her drive is definitely a standard that she’s set here in Waelder athletics.”