When COVID-19 concerns canceled Ball State Softball’s 2020 season after 27 games, the Cardinals’ seniors were left questioning if they had played the last game of their Ball State careers.
A few weeks after the cancellation, the NCAA gave an extra year of eligibility to all spring student-athletes March 30, 2020.
None of the Cardinals’ five seniors thought twice about returning for an additional season. All of them — pitcher Alyssa Rothwell, infielder/outfielder Gabby Magnifico, outfielder Haley Dominique, infielder Janae Hogg and outfielder Kennedy Wynn — were thankful to have the opportunity to play one final season in the cardinal and white.
“I knew that the way everything ended — it didn't feel right for any of us,” Wynn said. “We just wanted to be back in our safe place, which is softball. We wanted to end in the right way and just enjoy the moment with our teammates.”
Despite an abrupt ending last season, the pandemic served as a chance for the Cardinals to grow closer and develop a deeper trust in one another. Rothwell said having an additional fifth year has allowed them to build on their friendships that will connect them forever.
“Even after we're done here, these are the people that are going to be in our weddings,” Rothwell said. “The bonds we’ve created and those relationships — we get to carry that on after college.”
Wynn said their togetherness comes from the relationships they have built off the field while looking up to the four pillars of their program — family, gratitude, hard work and toughness.
“We've been able to really realize to never take anything for granted,” Wynn said. “Anything we're doing as a team — even outside of practice or softball — we’re making sure we're taking in those moments and taking care of one another.”
Head coach Lacy Wood said all five players have different roles and qualities, and the contrast of their personalities makes their leadership extremely helpful.
“I think that's been key,” Wood said. “They're not a group that they're all the same — they’re different in the way they connect with everybody on the team, which is so huge.”
Dominique is one senior who said she has developed in areas off the field during her fifth year. She said her confidence has grown tremendously since first joining the program in 2017, which will benefit her in multiple areas of life moving forward.
“When I came in as a freshman, I was not very social,” Dominique said. “Now, I’ve built my confidence and grown a voice to where I'm not really afraid to say what's on my mind.”
Wood said she understands many programs do not have the luxury of having as much experience as her team does, and she is thankful for how this group of fifth-year seniors represents Ball State.
“They're really guiding us right now,” Wood said. “They've been battle-tested and know what it feels like to compete. It's what we want to be about in this program.”
Rothwell, Magnifico, Dominique, Hogg and Wynn didn’t hesitate when the opportunity of a fifth season presented itself, and they have made the most of their final ride so far.
The Cardinals’ 15-0 start in Mid-American Conference play marked their best single-season MAC winning streak in program history. With no conference tournament this year, the players recognize the importance of every matchup to help them achieve their ultimate goal: a MAC Title.
“Each game, whether it's midweek or over the weekend, is super important,” Wynn said. “We've been really focusing on each game one at a time because we know that every game matters. Our record is going to win us the MAC.”