It has been a trying time for Penn softball over the past months. The 2020 season was cut short when the coronavirus pandemic first struck, and with the upcoming season still up in the air, emotions are running high. In spite of this adversity, though, the team is staying focused on the present and getting ready to compete.
“Obviously, it’s been challenging not to have been able to work out as a group and do some skill stuff,” coach Leslie King said. “But these guys have been playing softball their whole lives, and it’s going to be like flipping a switch when we get back out there. I don’t have any doubt that they’ll be ready when our number is called to run out on that field.”
The Quakers started last season with a 7-6 record, defeating teams like Butler, Elon, and Lafayette and staying competitive with No. 7 Florida in the final game before Ivy League play was supposed to begin. That game would end up being their last of the year, though, as the Ivy League canceled the remainder of the season a day later, just three days before Penn was set to take on Yale.
“I think that last year, we were all really looking forward to the Ivy League season,” sophomore catcher Sarah Schneider said. “I’m really hopeful that, if we get the opportunity to compete in the Ivy League, we’re going to give it a good shot and get out there and hopefully win it.”
The Quakers are optimistic about their prospects for the potential upcoming season.
“I feel like we have a wealth of talent,” King said. “And I also think that because we’ve had it taken away from us once, we’re really super hungry to get out there and play softball again. I feel confident in our talent level and our experience.”
Experience is definitely a strength of this year’s team. The Quakers are returning nearly all of last season’s starters, and many returning players are currently living in Philadelphia. Being in person among teammates has allowed them to build chemistry, stay motivated and in shape, and keep hope for the future of the season.
“A majority of us are on campus, and we get to spend some time together, which has been really awesome,” Schneider said. “During this time, we’ve also done a bunch of Zoom calls and kept in really good touch with our freshmen as well. We have two on campus right now, but the rest, the other five, are not here with us. We also do things called coffee chats, which are a group of each of our upperclassmen meeting with a freshman each week, so that everyone gets to know each other and gets to know the freshmen as well as possible.”
The Quakers are also doing their best to stay in touch with their freshman teammates who are not on campus.
“It’s definitely hard, mainly with the freshmen being away, because we’ve never really met them before,” junior outfielder Emma Nedley said. “In the event that we are back in the spring, they’re kind of just going to be thrown into softball and school and social life and being on their own, so we’re trying to kind of bridge the gap so that they have some sort of family connection coming into school.”
The members of the team who are living off-campus have made efforts to create their own practices and workouts during this time in which official team gatherings are not happening.
“We do a bunch of individual workouts — like a few of us will plan to work out at certain times every week,” Schneider said. “A bunch of us also go to the batting cages one to two times per week, and we’re able to pretty much get everything done there, softball-wise. We all hit, we have pitchers pitch to our hitters, we’re able to have ground balls hit to us. It’s really great that we’re able to do that and that we have access to a batting cage about 15 minutes off of campus.”
While the Quakers are, of course, hoping to be able to play their spring season, some have noticed the silver linings of these times.
“I think, non-softball-wise, something our team has done a really good job of in this time is to create new little traditions – like every Tuesday night we watch The Bachelorette together,” Schneider said. “Doing little things that our team can look forward to, those of us who are on campus, I think is really helpful to keep up our team chemistry and work in those two freshmen who are here with us.”
“We’re all finding new hobbies and finding new things about ourselves,” Nedley added. “So this is kind of a time of reflection where we can see what we are outside of softball, which is something that most of us haven’t experienced since we were eight or nine years old. This is definitely a period of growth, and as much as it sucks, it’s preparing us for our future and bringing us new opportunities.”
With the decision still up in the air for the spring season, the Quakers are sticking together and keeping their hopes alive.
“This is just a challenging time for us to take pause and show resiliency and overcome the adversity that’s been put in front of us,” King said. “I feel very confident that we have the tools in our toolbox to come out of this stronger on the other end. I’m looking forward to the day we get to run out on to Penn Park, big time.”
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