Softball's Year Like No Other
by Noah Flack, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism
TEMPE - With the season now in full swing and with so many key players returning, Arizona State University's softball team is looking to complete the mission that they began less than a year ago when it came to a screeching halt because of the pandemic.
Before last season was suspended for two weeks then canceled, the 2020 No. 17 ranked Sun Devils were on a roll, winning five in a row with a record of 22-7 and leading the nation in home runs. The abrupt ending meant some players never got the chance to fully playout their senior season. Luckily, the NCAA approved an extra year of eligibility for spring athletes, meaning that seniors like Cielo Meza, Alli Tatnall and Kindra and Maddi Hackbarth were all able to come back to make a push for the Women's College World Series.
"I had anticipated that we would have quite a few come back because, you know, that senior class, they had a lot of unfinished business and they were kind of on a mission," Sun Devil softball head coach Trisha Ford said.
For Kindra Hackbarth, the NCAA and PAC-12's ruling to allow spring sports athletes to come back for an extra year meant a lot more than just getting another chance to play.
"It definitely means a lot and it was sad not being able to play my last year and being able to be given this year. I really appreciate it. And I'm very grateful. And I mean, I can't wait to play." Hackbarth said.
More players means more depth, and for coach Ford, that can never be a bad thing.
"I think you're going to see really good softball, to be honest with you," Ford said. "There's been, I think, something going around like 'all the super teams.' And I think there's going to be a high level of softball. I think that there's going to be obviously added depth."
Although depth is nice, there is also the added benefit of having so much experience on the field and in the locker room. Ford has praised her fifth year seniors all of which have taken a big role in being mentors to the younger players on the team.
"When we're hitting and practice, Kindra will be talking to the younger ones and it's not necessarily about mechanics. It's kind of about her approach and what she thinks and how she keeps it simple..." Ford said. "I think that's something that especially those super seniors, Tatnall as well, they do a really good job of just sitting down and talking with them and kind of talking through practice with everybody."
Of course with the fifth year seniors coming back, there is always a concern about getting the younger players involved. How will the lineup look moving forward? Ford says those concerns will be solved in due time, but as of right now they are taking one practice at a time and getting everyone on the team involved.
"That's going to be a tricky part, is making sure that we get some of these players in and get them some significant time," Ford said. "So I do think with the flow of the season and anticipating that we might have some players that come in and out throughout the season, that there will be some opportunities that kind of come up."
Leadership provided beyond the dugout is valuable and it appears to be paying off. The No.15 ranked Sun Devils have been off to a red hot start. After their double header against Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday, they extended their winning streak to six games, continuing their undefeated run to start the season. Coach Trisha Ford also notched her 300th career win as a head coach.