Despite ‘heartbreaking’ end to season shortened by coronavirus, Houston softball sets 2021 expectations high
When the softball team got the news that its season had been canceled due to the rising concerns of COVID-19, the players felt all sorts of devastation, uncertainty and sadness.
After getting off to a promising 16-7 start and just a day away from heading to Norman, Oklahoma, for a tournament at OU, suddenly everything was just over.
“It was heartbreaking in a way just because of how we started,” head coach Kristin Vesely said on Thursday evening during a Coaches Caravan video call. “That was one of the best starts we’ve had … We were playing a lot of good competition, but when you start to get the confidence, that culture, that environment and then it stops.
“You’re like what the heck, what do we do now?”
For the seniors on the team, they not only had to grasp that there were not going to be any more games but also began to fear that their collegiate career had suddenly been ripped away from them.
“It was uncomfortable,” Vesely said. “The anxiety of some of the kids that could have (just played in) their last year. You never want to end like that.”
Fortunately for those players, the NCAA’s decision to grant an extra season of eligibility for all spring-sport student-athletes will provide them an opportunity to go out on their own terms.
For the Cougars, specifically, it also puts their expectations for the 2021 season sky high.
Vesely expects next season’s roster to be between 23-24 players, which will be the most the program has ever had. This includes four seniors returning along with the class of 2021 that will join.
“Getting those kids back is very exciting for us,” she said. “The talent we have, the experience, we have kids that have played in the World Series returning. We have kids that have been in super regionals. We have all of our kids who have been in the regional finals returning.”
For the team that led the American Athletic Conference with 38 home runs in 2020, the anticipation for 2021 is overflowing.
“I’m so excited,” incoming redshirt senior infielder Arielle James said. “Watching the team this season got my juices flowing … I think all of us are excited to see that we can come back and what we can do together with the new class coming in because we’ve only heard good things.”
James, who sat out 2020 with an injury, is still rehabbing but has begun hitting. Her year off has allowed her to see the talent the 2021 team will have.
As for the head coach, she doubled down on the skill next season’s team will have and already has strong goals in mind.
“I’ve already set the bar high,” Vesely said. “If we aren’t a top 20 team, I will be highly disappointed. This is very easily going to be our best team since I’ve been here. A World Series team.”
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