The delay of the spring season due to the coronavirus has been tough on anyone involved in high school sports, particularly in softball, one of the area’s marquee sports.
Three of the best softball teams year in and year out are Southington, Cheshire and Maloney. Those three teams, like all squads in the state, are doing what they can to stay in shape and be prepared for the season if and when it is deemed safe enough to begin.
Maloney coach Scott Aresco has been in on the calls with the CIAC to discuss the status of the season. He said the group met most recently on Friday and nothing has changed: Connecticut schools remain closed until at least April 20 and the CIAC, following that lead, will not set any dates to start the season at this point and will look to the governor’s office for guidance.
“The plan is to play and have a season, even if it’s a short one,” Aresco said. “There’s not timeline yet to when we are going to return.”
In the meantime, players in Meriden, Southington and Cheshire are working out with parents or siblings within their household. None are meeting with teammates. All are adhering to the social distance restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus crisis.
Cheshire has been innovative. The Rams are sent a daily workout Sunday through Friday and do those workouts on a routine from 2:30 to 4 p.m., which is similar to what their normal practice time would be after school.
The Rams also meet on the Internet twice a week on a program called Zoom so head coach Kristine Drust and assistant Jaymie Sommers can provide a weekly plan and check-in regularly.
“We have a normal routine, just like a normal school day,” Drust said Monday. “We get out at 2 p.m. and workout until 4 p.m. and then we do a journal entry or reach out to a teammate after practice.”
The Rams are sent individual workouts to perform based on position. Cheshire junior captain Bri Pearson, for instance, does workouts as a pitcher and as an infielder. She throws to her father to keep her arm in shape.
“This has obviously been difficult,” Pearson said. “This isn’t what we wanted. We’ve been preparing for the season and we are still acting like the season is going to start at a moment’s notice.”
Pearson noted that the Rams lifted weights together throughout the winter and that work helped create a family atmosphere within the team.
Cheshire fourth-year senior Ari Perlini said the Rams will be ready as soon as the season starts.
“We are still preparing in the hopes of playing,” Perlini said. “Our mentality and focus is directed toward having a season and, when we have a season, we are ready to play.”
Perlini has been practicing at home with her sister Amelia, a freshman.
“We’ve just been playing in the backyard and hitting into nets,” the elder Perlini said. “We have a tee, as well. We are just trying to keep in our routine like we are in practice or in school. We were hoping to be able to play together as sisters this season.”
Perlini said she hopes she gets to take the field with her teammates this spring, even if it’s just for a game or two.
“It’s our senior year and we are hoping to get at least a couple of games in,” Perlini said. “We’ve been an accomplished team the last few years and it would have been nice to have a big season. We hope we can still accomplish a lot. Hopefully, we get to play and show what we got. That’s what we are preparing for.”
On March 21, on what was supposed to have been the first day of practice, Drust and Sommers dropped off new uniform jerseys at each players house.
“That was awesome,” Perlini said. “It was bittersweet because that was what we were supposed to wear at the New Jersey tournament we were scheduled to play. It was nice to see my coaches and wave from a distance. We haven’t seen each other in a while.”
Drust said she wanted to give the players a chance to kick off the season.
“Emotionally, we are up and down depending on the news of the day and whether our season is going to happen,” the head coach said. “I believe the CIAC and the ADs are truly doing their very best to get our season in. I have trust in the CIAC and the ADs are going to keep an open mind and do anything possible to get our girls back on the field. That’s the excitement and hope that we are trying to give our team. Just like any other day, like we are preparing for the next game we are preparing like our season is going to happen and we are staying focused under difficult circumstances.
“We stay together,” Drust added. “One thing I’m thankful for is that we have an all-inclusive team and that shows with the relationships that we have formed. They have shined in a tough situation. The girls are there for each other in this unknown time.”
In Southington, the 2019 Class LL champions are hoping to get a chance to defend their title.
“We are all in the same boat,” Southington coach Davina Hernandez said. “We all feel helpless at this point. We are adhering to all of the CIAC’s rules at this point.”
Hernandez has been in touch with her team digitally through text messaging and Facebook.
“We are trying to keep things fun and exciting,” Hernandez said. “We all miss each other a lot. The softball field in our therapy — for me it is, anyway. It’s our opportunity to check out and not worry about anything else but softball. But now we are all stuck in our homes with the hopes of getting back on the field. We understand how serious this is and there’s a chance we may not have a season. We have no idea what is going to happen.”
Hernandez said the pandemic puts life into perspective.
“It makes you step back and allows me to realize how much the kids really mean to me,” Hernandez said. “I take it for granted each year that I will see the girls and be with them. I just have so much fun. We have been blessed year after year to have great groups of kids. We are anxious to get out there. If we can’t, we are going to try to make this an amazing season for our seniors, regardless.”
The Blue Knights recently named Katie Gundersen and Alex Rogers their senior captains.
“It’s been tough,” Gundersen said. “The seniors were looking to this season coming off of last year. We brought a lot of key players back from the championship game. We thought this was going to be a really fun season. I’ve played with these girls my entire life.”
Gundersen has been practicing batting, fielding and throwing with her mom, who plays slow-pitch softball in Southington. The two plan on playing slow-pitch together in the summer.
“It’s been a family effort in the backyard,” Gundersen said. “I’ve been hitting balls into the net and throwing. I’ve been running and working out. I do as much as I could.”
Gundersen, a three-year starter, will be playing next year at Division II Florida Southern.
Rogers, the returning second baseman, has been hitting into the net most days at home with her younger sister Sam, a freshman.
“Most days we run and some days it’s a full-body workout,” Rogers said. “We are doing anything to stay in shape. For now, everyone is doing their own thing to stay in shape for the season.”
Rogers was accepted into the honors program at Central Connecticut State. She hopes to become a teacher, but still wants to stay involved in softball as a coach.
Hernandez calls Rogers the shortest cleanup hitter in the state. At 5-foot-2, the senior packs a punch.
“I was really looking forward to my senior season,” Rogers said. “We’ve been keeping in touch as a team and staying connected any way we can. There’s still a chance that we can play and we are holding out hope that we will get out there. Our team has a great connection.”
At Maloney, Aresco said his girls are restricted to conditioning and working out at home. He also said YouTube has many instructive videos that he’s suggested.
“The season hasn’t officially started, so I can't mandate or require anything, but it would be in everyone’s best interest to do some type of work,” Aresco said. “I emailed the girls to not get together in small groups. The only people they should be working with is people in their household, including brothers, sisters and parents. The girls should not be getting together.”
Emma Burns, Maloney’s returning centerfielder, said she’s been practicing with her father to stay in shape. Burns is a captain along with All-State shortstop Lea White.
“My dad and I have been doing outfield work and I’ve been working outside with my sister,” Burns said. “I throw with my dad whenever I can.
“It’s definitely a tough time,” Burns added. “I hate that this is my last season and everything that has happened. It’s hard not to be at school every day and with my teammates ever day. I text a few of them every day. We all always say we wish we were on the field right now.”
White, who is working at home by taking grounders and throwing, is also finding it hard being away from her teammates, many of whom she started playing with at age 11.
“I’ve known them my whole life,” said White, who will be heading to Division I UMass-Lowell to continue her softball career. “I’m hoping for the best so I can get one more season with them. At this point, we would take anything, even if it was one game.”