With their season cut short, softball reflects on what could have been

Miguel Campos | Staff Reporter

Freshman Tami Wong was having quite the year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and canceled the season. Through nine games as a utility player for the Washington University softball team, she was batting .500. Wong had driven in eight runs and scored eight of her own as well.

But that is not what Wong will remember about this season of softball. “You come in and you already have 19 best friends—you spend so much time with them at the beginning of the year, and I don’t know how I could’ve survived freshman year without the upperclassmen on the team,” she said. “Having that environment has been amazing, the girls are so great, softball is great, the team’s great…Now that I talk about it, I miss it a lot.”

That seems to be the general consensus when it comes to the softball team’s attitude after seeing their season come to a close after just a handful of games. After finishing with a sub-.500 record the year prior at 15-18 overall and 4-11 in the University Athletic Association, the Bears came out swinging early in the new season with a record of 6-3 overall. Highlighted by two notable slugfest wins against No. 8 DePauw University and No. 19 University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, things appeared to be on the up and up for the team.

Grace Bruton | Student Life

The Bears celebrate after notching a walk-off win against No. 4 Illinois Wesleyan University, March 24, 2019. Wash. U. was 6-3 this year before the season was cancelled, a promising start after a disappointing 15-18 year last spring.

“This team had an insane amount of potential—especially the last two games being against ranked opponents,” junior pitcher and outfielder Kendall Schwartz, a captain, said. “In terms of the rest of the season and where it was going, I think that showed a lot about how special this team was and how we had each other’s back—[we] were going to do some pretty big things this year.”

In their final game of the season, against Mary Hardin-Baylor, Wash. U. was down 11-9 in the bottom half of the third inning. The bases were loaded with two down and freshman utility player Kayla Nommensen was up to bat. After being down in the count, Nommensen fought off long enough to bring it back to a full count and then, the amazing happened. On the next pitch, she hit a grand slam, putting the Red and Green ahead by two runs. “I think that was one of the coolest moments. You know, that’s your teammate,” Wong recalled. “You work so hard and it’s just so cool to see the moment pay off.”

The sudden cancellation of the season has a lot of implications for the players and faculty involved, the seniors of the team included. “I think my reaction mainly was that it was sad for the seniors because they never got to know that it was their last game,” sophomore pitcher Holly Stoner said. “I can’t even imagine what they had to go through—I get 30 less games, but I’m only a sophomore. The main thing is that I feel bad for the seniors because it’s just really unfair.”

Senior pitcher and outfielder Hannah McCall, another captain, said that the cancellation’s impact went beyond the softball games themselves. “We had a lot of hopes, a lot of things we hadn’t gotten to see yet. They were looking forward to the season,” she said. “The biggest thing for me is really just not getting the chance to spend as much time with this team as I thought I would get because they are such a great group.”

Despite the unforeseen circumstances, the team will work to make sure the keep the spirits high for when they come back in the fall.

Freshman Kayla Nommensen is greeted by a collection of teammates after hitting her first career home run, March 6 over Alma College. Nommensen hit a grand slam in the third inning of the Bears’ final game of the season, a March 8 victory over No. 19 University of Mary-Hardin Baylor.

“It’s obviously hard when we have a good start to the season, then this happens and we’re worried about how it’s going to transition into next year,” senior outfielder and captain Amy Walsh said. Yet even in the shortened season, she had observed many of the team’s younger players improving rapidly. “Seeing them step up is a really positive thing for the future of the program [and] using that as motivation to continue working hard,” Walsh said.

The unforeseeable nature of the pandemic and cancellation also made the team remember some team traditions that exemplify the bonds that remain strong regardless.

Each year during the team’s spring break trip, the Bears would circle up to sing the Wash. U. fight song before games. “That really gets us hyped up and ready to go,” McCall remembered. “That’s something that was a huge part of this team. One of my favorite things is just looking around the circle at my teammates as we cheer, having that feeling like ‘Yeah! We’re about to do something really cool.’ I don’t know where else I would find that feeling.”

Another key tradition is Bearsgiving, which the team holds as a “friendsgiving” every fall around Thanksgiving. But even before that shared meal, the Bears are already building their bonds. “The freshmen on the team go on dates with every single other person on the team and get a ball signed,” Schwartz said. “It’s a really great opportunity for them to get to know each other on a deeper level and for us [upperclassmen] to get to know them, so I love that tradition.”

Walsh echoed that sentiment. “I think it’s important for the returners coming back next year to continue working hard and practicing, but also working on improving team chemistry and maintaining connections with people when we don’t see them every day,” she said. “Focusing on how you can leave an impact, whether or not you see the field at all or play every game or do horribly or do great, it doesn’t matter really. It just matters how you are reflected in other people’s eyes. I think that’s the most important thing that we could focus on during this whole circumstance.”

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