Just because those who know and love her probably have been saying this for quite some time doesn't mean the rest of us can't get onboard with the idea that Mexico High School grad. Daejera Aaron is a Saint, because she is, literally.

While the one-time Lady Bulldog perhaps used to be a terror to the entire North Central Missouri Conference, much to the delight of Lady Bulldogs Head Coach Keith Louder, now she's playing for Maryville University in St. Louis, and being a Lady Saint is exactly what she's supposed to be.

"I actually got the Head Coaching job here last October, so I have not even been here for a year yet! I was not the one who recruited DJ, but I would've recruited DJ. I would have recruited DJ in a heartbeat," said Maryville Coach Courtney Conley. "Deej is the athlete at practice that you catch carrying two buckets in her hands both overflowing with equipment, the tape measure is stuck between her arm and her side, and she's carrying the rest with her teeth because there's no more room."

This past season with the Lady Saints Aaron-Holman was much improved from the season before and it showed in almost all of her statistics. This included hitting .257 with 29 hits in 113 at bats after making 40 starts in 47 games. The former Lady Bulldog also racked up 19 RBI, 13 runs, nine doubles and eight walks with 41 total bases with a .363 slugging percentage and a .356 on-base percentage.

"She does the little things like carry equipment. She also does big things like be the best teammate," Conley said. "Deej is the type of teammate who'll do everything right and all for the right reasons. She works hard, she makes adjustments, and she keeps a positive attitude even when things are tough. Deej is someone I look forward to seeing everyday because she's light. She makes the game more enjoyable because you can see her passion by the way she plays. Overall, DJ is a perfect fit for our family."

Perhaps it's because they had a new skipper or maybe it was Aaron-Holman's on-field comeback, but whatever the cause Maryville stepped up its game in 2019 to finish 33-19 overall, 17-9 Great Lakes Valley Conference. Highlights included defeating Lewis University 7-5 in eight innings on May 3 during the league tournament.

The problem with that victory is that it was sandwiched between losses to the University of Illinois-Springfield 4-1 earlier that same day, May 3, and on May 4 the Lady Saints lost to Truman State University 6-1 to get eliminated from the tournament.

"Since I arrived in October, DJ has made such great progress. She's coachable and she has high softball IQ," said Conley. "She's come so far with her defense. From the first time I saw her on the field, I wanted her to stay on the field. She understands that you have to charge the ball on most plays and that's an instinct that is hard to teach. I believe in her hitting 100%. I can't wait to see DJ mash the ball this year. I have all of the confidence in the world in her bat."

Just one season earlier for Aaron Holman and her tale was being told from a completely different perspective. The reason for that was during 2018 the Mexico product hit .139 by clocking a rather lonely five hits in 36 at-bats. The good news for DJ was that two of those connections were doubles, but with only seven total bases, three runs, two walks and one RBI, there was some bad news to be had, as well.

"She doesn't know how good she's going to be yet, and it's a really cool perspective to get to know that as her coach," Conley said. "I think the area she needs most improvement is her confidence. Like previously stated, she doesn't know how good she is yet. It's fun to watch her figure it out as her coach, but I can't wait until she does figure it out. Because when she does, she's going to become her best version."

One reason Conley gets so much satisfaction from this specific process is she knows what the end result of all this is going to be. Overcoming all these obstacles can only making Aaron-Holman stronger in a way that's going to allow her to conquer life the same way she'd been conquering the diamond. Considering the upward trajectory she's on the sky appears to be the limit for this local product.

"I could actually write a book on the ways Softball and sports in general have prepared athletes for the real world. In DJ's specific case, she has grit," said Conley. "She has tenacity. I look at her and just think "strength". She's a fighter. She's a competitor. And she's a compassionate and loving teammate. She is going to succeed in life no matter what she chooses to do. She's a good one."