This was supposed to be the year for Three Rivers softball.
The Lady Wildcats were bringing back four solid seniors and were primed to have one of those magical seasons that rarely come around in high school.
They’re in the same position as every other softball team in the country as we continue to deal with the coronavirus. But these Lady Wildcats felt they had something special going for 2020.
“I feel like I won’t get closure out of this, that’s all I really want,” senior Karalyn Eldridge said. “Even just one last game so I could say goodbye. I’ve played three years on this team and it’s tough on me and my teammates, especially the seniors, because we don’t get that last game. It’s upsetting.”
Eldridge joins seniors Kylee Nash, Emma Thatcher and Lizzie Bissett as outbound players for coach Kendra Kutz. While the group will finish without a win on the field this season, Kutz said they still have a positive look at their futures.
“My seniors are a tough group of girls who have their minds in the right place, they’re great kids on and off the field and all have a bright future,” she said. “In talking with them, yeah it’s sad but they are also excited to take that next step in their lives. I feel like they are prepared for that.”
Nash, who will continue her academic and softball careers at the University of Tulsa, was not able to compete for the Lady Wildcats last season because she was recovering from a knee injury.
While being able to play Division 1 softball next year and beyond is an exciting future for Nash, she said she was going to be using this year’s senior stint as a leaping board.
“I was really looking forward to a comeback season and I didn’t get that,” Nash said. “I’m going to miss my teammates because I loved the team chemistry we had during my career. It was always great to have that family feel. Even after you had a tough day at school, you could always count on coming out on the field and having a good practice because your friends were out there.”
Lizzie Bissett was going to play center field for the Lady Wildcats this season. She also spoke of the camaraderie she felt with her teammates at Three Rivers as something that will be hard to replace.
Bissett is going to continue her academic, softball and volleyball careers with Albion College.
“I was just really sad because I was looking forward to this season,” Bissett said of hearing the news the season had been canceled. “I was excited to be playing with my friends and teammates and us having a good year together.”
Eldridge, a multiple-year starter at second base for Kutz, will be continuing her career with Lake Michigan College. Thatcher, who was set to play first base for Three Rivers, will be heading to West Virginia University in the fall.
There, Thatcher will study forensic science. She said it got to a point where they knew softball season was probably going to be canceled, but they still had hope until the end decision was made.
“This sucks a lot. We knew it was coming, but then I got to thinking about all the things we weren’t going to be able to go through as a team,” she said. “All those memories I wasn’t able to make with my teammates. Those are the types of things I am thinking a lot about now and it’s hard.”
Kutz had a positive outlook on this season for a variety of reasons. In addition to Nash being a Division 1 player, the Lady Wildcats also have Alabama commit and junior Kali Heivilin on the squad. The Lady Cats blasted 57 home runs as a team last season, which ranks fourth-best in MHSAA history regardless of school size. They also clubbed seven homers against Plainwell in a single game, which is tied for second-most by an MHSAA team in a single game.
Heivilin set the state record for runs scored in a season last year, crossing the plate 88 times in just 38 games. She belted two home runs in the same inning (third) in a game against Paw Paw, which is tied for a state record. But it wasn’t just her bat opponents had to fear when facing the Lady Wildcats.
“What made this group special was most of them were together last year, we grew together as a team and it got to a point where they were comfortable around each other and pushed each other to get better,” Kutz said. "We wanted to make this the best season yet and it’s heartbreaking. To look back on all the work this group put in and for all the excitement we had for the upcoming year, for it all to be taken away is really tough.”
Nash said a deep postseason run was on the team's collective mind.
While nothing was guaranteed, and they knew that, there was not only talent on the team, but also a good work ethic to strive to be the best.
“We were thinking we could make a solid run this year, we felt like we were capable of having a good team and really pushing for a deep run,” Nash said. “This was a hard-working team and we were itching to get back onto the field this year. We had a lot of talent and capability with this group. It’s just really sad to know we weren’t going to get that opportunity.”
Because the season ended before it could begin, there are always going to be questions and “what if” scenarios. Kutz and her seniors understand that, but it certainly doesn’t make it any easier.
As Eldridge said, it’s tough to comprehend without some closure on the campaign or even getting a chance to take the field one final time knowing it was the end.
It is going to be tough for teams and communities to work though the cancellations from COVID-19. While it’s not life and death and just a game, it still has a major impact on many people's lives. Kutz said even though everyone on her team is crushed and there’s really nothing they can do about it, there still may be some positives to take from the situation.
“You can’t take anything for granted, man, it can all be gone in a blink of an eye,” Kutz said. “The season we were waiting for is gone just like that. I think it will give our underclassmen some perspective and drive. They’re going to look at these seniors who had their careers taken from them and understand they have to work for everything just a little bit harder now.”