By Sarah McKeveny
Many NCAA athletes, especially graduating seniors, are heartbroken after the NCAA’s decision to cancel the remainder of March Madness as well as all spring sports in response to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak. In addition to the NCAA’s largest profit-driving sporting event, NCAA basketball’s March Madness, all spring sports’ seasons have been terminated as the NCAA announced on Thursday, March 12th.
Thursday March 12th started out as a normal game day for a countless number of seniors who did not know it would be their last. In Birmingham, Alabama, the Bryant Softball team honored their seniors before playing Samford University, in hopes that the ceremony was just a preemptive measure, since at that point in time, sports were scheduled to resume at the end of April.
Unfortunately, that game at Samford would turn out to be the last game played by the graduating Bryant Softball seniors. Tiffany Bell, Nicole Davis, Gabrielle Ermish, Helaina Michaud, Marianna Politis, and Nicole Zukowski played their last collegiate game on March 12th, 2020, among thousands of other senior athletes across the country.
There is something bittersweet about the end of a college athletic career. Whether it’s the realization that you don’t have to run another run test or wake up before the sun for another team lift, or even sacrifice social events because of athletic obligations, the end is often a relief. But, when the end comes two months early, that bittersweet feeling feels much more bitter than usual.
After missing their NEC playoff clinch by one game in 2019, and then being ranked 5th in the NEC preseason poll, the Bryant Softball team had a revenge mindset for the 2020 season. They had an extremely tough schedule booked for preseason and spring break, as they were to meet up with five power ranked teams: University of Arizona, Mississippi State University, University of Oklahoma, University of Texas, and University of Alabama. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs’ last weekend of spring break was cut short, and they lost their chance to play Texas and Alabama at Rhoads Stadium at the University of Alabama, which the girls have looked forward to since watching Alabama games on television as young softball players.
The difficult preseason schedule was crafted in order to prepare the Bulldogs for a successful conference run—something the girls have been preparing for day in and day out since they stepped foot on campus for preseason. The team, especially the six seniors, were hungry for an NEC championship their senior year, and it didn’t seem far out of reach after their impressive preseason performance against ranked opponents.
The Bulldogs held their own against No. 2 Oklahoma when they met on February 14th, scoring 3 runs against the Sooners, although the Bulldogs ultimately went down to the Sooners at a score of 8-3. The next day, the Bulldogs met with No. 4 Arizona, who they lost to at only a 2-run deficit, 3-1. The next week, the Bulldogs pulled their first win from Mercer University, who
was hosting the tournament that weekend, with a score of 7-4. At the start of spring break, the Bulldogs met with No. 24 Mississippi State, and again fought hard to compete with the high ranked team but fell to them by a score of 5-1. Throughout the rest of the weekend, the Bulldogs picked up 3 wins from Mississippi Valley (5-4, 2-1) and Jackson State (9-2).
The Bulldogs’ last game of 2020 was played at Samford University in Birmingham, AL on March 12th. The news was released mid-game that the NCAA would be suspending the remainder of the 2020 softball season. Head Coach Nick French and Assistant Coach Briana Chiusano honored the seniors during the game by ceremonially substituting them out of the field and greeting them in front of the dugout with a hug. It was an emotional time for the Bulldogs, and I’m sure the same could be said about all effected sports across the country.
The Bryant Softball seniors have made their mark on the program indefinitely, despite being unable to finish what they started this season. The foundation that they have built the last 4 years has caused this program to rise to the occasion and play some serious softball. If this year wasn’t the year, then next year will be because of the determination and passion the underclassmen have to earn a title in honor of the six incredible seniors who were unable to fight for it this year.