Every senior class is special, but this graduating group of Ragin' Cajuns helped Head Coach Michael Lotief through the most trying time in his life. Their battle together extended beyond the softball diamond, and it ensured them a place in his heart forever.

Lotief's public battle with cancer affected his wife, children, extended family, and of course, his softball daughters. They came up with the phrase "Fight Like Mike," and he always said they were the ones doing the fighting, not him.

Love is a word that is often preceded by "tough" in the coaching realm. Even when death was the opponent, his players had his back.

There was a point in time when Lotief truly didn't know if he was going to survive. Facing throat surgery, he addressed the fans and media and told them he might not wake up. His players wiped their tears away and went and played softball, just like their coach wanted. Their strength helped conquer his body's weakness, something their coach understood as pure, unconditional love.

"The fact that I did go down and they stayed strong, I know they love me," Lotief said. "They have a hard time telling me to my face, they all call me that grumpy old man, but those kids love me, and I love them."

Few coaches speak about their players as often and eloquently as Lotief.

Every week, he brings a player to a press conference and showers them with praise. It's more than a way to pump them up, it's a way for him to share somebody he loves with the fans, to let them know the story behind the player. This week, he didn't bring any players, but he opened up his heart and spilled its full contents on the podium.

This group of six seniors (Shellie Landry, Kelsey Vincent, Sara Corbello, Lexie Elkins, Gabby Felps, Meagan Thomas) carved their place in Ragin' Cajuns history, like so many other greats before them.

The only thing Lotief wouldn't do was compare classes. For him, they have all been a part of his life, wrapped into his personal story like the finest threads.

“My connection to every single one of those classes is special. It’s been a special time in my life. When when we had Chelsea, you know, when we had our kid, she grew up around that class. When we had Andrew, he grew up around them. There’s been every moment in our lives that we’ve shared with our players," Lotief explained. "This class, because of my illness, this class will be special to me, but they were special to me with or without it.”

Instead of listing all the records they broke or the Sun Belt Championships they collected, Lotief focused off the field.

His love isn't dependent on victories. They helped him fight against mortality, so winning softball games is a small detail in the scope of a lifetime.

"I love not what they’ve done for me, I love who they are and I love what they represent, and I love how they go about their business, day in and day out. They inspire me," Lotief shared.

He said they don't have to win a championship this year for him to remember them as champions. In his eyes, they already won.

Coaches often talk about fighting or battling with their players. It might not be war they are waging, but their shared toil forges bonds stronger than steel. The fibers of the heart hold memories that last a lifetime.

"When you’re in battle with people—I know people think that's getting dramatic, but that’s what we do, we go to battle together every weekend over an eight to ten month period, and when stuff like that happens you get to peer inside of their soul. You get to see who they are," Lotief said with a thickness in his voice and fire in his eyes. "Sometimes there’s a bunch of them that they shy away, they want no part of that. What our sport does in the journey and the process and the climb, what it does is it connects us. It brings us together…we’re connected forever."

Family is family for a reason. No distance or time can take that bond away.

The women of Ragin' Cajuns softball might not share the same blood, but they bled on the same dirt. They shared the same father figure and looked to their sisters for support, like any regular family would behave. When Landry, Vincent, Elkins, Corbello, Thomas and Felps head out into the world, their Cajun family will come with them, tucked inside, close to the heart.

These seniors will bring their future families back to Lamson Park, to share the love they felt from the fans, coaches and teammates. Not even time can rob them of that love, so Sunday's senior day won't be a "goodbye." It will just be "until we meet again."