Remington Ross started her collegiate softball career as she donned the blue orange and white of Cal State Fullerton. While excited to play, she was not happy behind the scenes.
“I didn't make any relationships with any of the team,” Ross said. “That's why I left… I didn’t know anybody on a personal level. I was just shut out.”
Following the 2020 season, Ross decided to try a fresh start and transferred to Ball State. With her past experiences with the Titans, she didn’t plan on trying to be a social butterfly.
“I was just going to be a fly on the wall,” she said. “I thought it was going to be the same in Muncie, Indiana.”
Right after she arrived in the Hoosier State, there was a difference. Then senior Mackenzie McCarty and junior Amaia Daniel took Ross under their wings and found ways to incorporate her with the other Cardinals. That simple gesture became something Ross and others continue to this day.
Last season, Ball State finished its season with back-to-back losses in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship. After they made their last stop at Muncie, the Cardinals went their separate ways.
Yet the next day, they were already contacting each other.
“We talk to each other all the time [when we’re away],” redshirt junior McKayla Timmons said. “And it's not even just in between grades. It's upperclassmen to lower classmen. It's the team to the coaches.”
With multiple Cardinals being from the same states, teammates are able to still see each other and find ways to hang out. For the ones who live hours away, they interact via group chats and phone calls.
They also try to continue traditions when they have Zoom meetings and discussions. One of the Cardinals’ biggest traditions when they return to campus is their bible study meetings.
In the past, the attendants have used the Bold and Beautiful plan from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). The program is intended for collegiate female athletes and talks about topics like body image, shame and control.
Recently, they have looked at different stories of women in the Bible and viewed how they went through certain situations. They also partake in meals and other activities. In one of their sessions, each house had to bring their own charcuterie boards.
“You could see the different groups of girls and their personalities on the board,” Ross said. “We had one that was filled with soft pretzels and 10 different dips.”
While the team does do activities the coaches prepare, most bonding sessions are of their own decision. Watching shows like ‘The Golden Bachelor’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars’ have both been ways that the team has become closer without outside intervention.
“Especially with Dancing with the Stars because the finale was [Dec. 5] and it was shocking, I was like screaming [at my television],” Ross said.
“Oh my gosh, the group chat between the houses bickering about it,” Timmons replied.
“The Golden Bachelor was on Thursdays,” Ross said. “So then Friday morning at weights, we would go back and forth, scrambling about how ‘I can’t believe Theresa [Nist] won or how Faith [Martin] was stolen.”
With the addition of head coach Helen Peña in the summer, Ball State softball has focused on its mental health. With programs like Chirp4change, FCA and the team’s own bible studies, the Cardinals are trying to make that a priority.
“I feel like a lot of our teammates have been battling with a lot of things this semester. Things like family and mental struggles,” Ross said. “I've never felt more support from other girls and from the team.
“There's an understanding and they care… Coach Peña’s motto for the year is culture of care.”
When it comes to the field, the Cardinals believe that a strong connection leads to success. Graduate student Haley Wynn was Ball State’s starting third baseman last season. To her, being able to know what her other infielders are thinking can be the difference between an out or an error.
“I have a really good connection with the shortstop,” Wynn said. “[I ask myself] what do I need to do with my shortstop to make sure that we're locked down over here?
Yet in the end, the game itself does not matter. When the seniors on Ball State’s roster leave the program for the final time this summer, the love and friendships they built in Muncie will last a lifetime.
“[Bonding] is a really good way to find the people that you're going to stay with forever,” senior Kaitlyn Mathews said. “[You’ll find] the girls that are going to be your bridesmaids and the girls you are going to keep in touch with.
“Many people don’t have the opportunity to connect with so many girls with similar interests like that. It’s fun to do the things we want to do, not have to do.”
Finding time to be more than teammates
What about a team that is going through their season? How do they adjust and find the time to be more than just teammates? For Ball State men’s swimming and diving, one way is board games.
“We play a lot of Unmatched,” junior Michael Burns said. “Guys are usually at my house every night playing.”
The game has become a tradition for the Cardinals. When you are crowned the champion, it’s something to cherish.
“I think I’ve gotten more mad at a game of Unmatched than anything else,” graduate student Noah Berryman said. “I was just learning to play the game and crushed them. I don’t know how I did it.”
Both the men’s and women’s teams have two different practice sessions, with one being in the morning and the other in the afternoon. This is built so that if athletes have morning or afternoon classes, they have a chance to practice.
With that schedule, it can be challenging to find downtime. Both teams hang out at dinners and planned events. Yet when it comes down to being separate teams, they have their own ways of getting together.
“It's just like, ‘Hey, who wants to come over and play,’” Berryman said. “We don't really have any structure.”
While the men’s side is more spontaneous, the women’s team has everything planned ahead. Whether it's movie nights or going out for an evening of karaoke, they make sure everyone is aware.
“We have a team group chat, so we'll have someone text everyone,” senior Mary Kate Phillips said. “We have after-practice dinners, and if someone's going out to eat, we'll text everyone to eat with us.”
To Phillips, the times spent outside of the pool can affect how you perform in the water. It can also help when the team is at a competition instead of an empty pool.
“Swimming is, honestly, a pretty individualized sport, but it's also really difficult to do by yourself,” Phillips said. “When it comes to a meet atmosphere, it's so much that everyone feels a little bit.”
One example of bonding was the scavenger hunt the women’s team hosted before the season. They used places like Berry Winkle and other landmarks around Muncie as the playing field. In the end, it was just one way for everyone to become one giant family.
The family aspect goes beyond the two sets of swimmers and divers. Both teams try to support other athletes by attending games and events with other Cardinals.
“I think having the athlete community is really helpful and gives you a place to make friends and meet new people,” Phillips said.
Last year, Berryman went to many athletic events. From soccer to field hockey, he made sure that he made at least one appearance at each sport.
“I have a really good memory of the men's volleyball team against Hawaii last year,” he said. “They beat them and it was just crazy. [A lot of us] were also there for the [men’s basketball] game against Kent State.”
Different bonding activities are used as a way to let their teammates know they care about them and to show the appreciation they have. They know when they reach the end of the pool, there will be someone there to celebrate with.
“We can lean on each other in tough times, cheer each other on in the great moments,” Berryman said. “It's imperative that we're very close so when things do go bad, we have each other.”
Contact Zach Carter with comments at email@example.com or on X @ZachCarter85.