author: brady lang | sports writer
Cougars win second medal in three years
The University of Regina Cougars Softball team was able to pick up bronze at the Canadian Collegiate Softball Championships just a few weeks ago.
I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with third-year outfielder Hayley Gibson and talk about the success that the season had for her and the team.
Can you sum up the season in just once sentence?
As cliché as this might sound, Cougars softball this year [was one] that we will never forget; we crushed balls, we crushed dreams and we made it rain green-and-gold. I speak for myself, but I’m sure many of my teammates will agree that this team was like none other I’ve ever played with. In just eight weeks we became a family, playing ball six days a week with one goal in mind. We got off to a shaky start at Nationals, going 0-2, but we pulled our socks up and the energy that flowed off each girl was contagious. That 21st out in the bronze medal game was the highlight of my 11 years in the game. Bronze felt like gold.
Were there any players that you guys leaned on throughout the season? Or was it more of a play by committee year?
We have two veterans, Carmen Hughes and Mikaila Etheredge, that I feel are just natural born leaders on our team. We never voted on team captains, but they’re like magnets; they’ve played overseas and at elite levels, they have so much guidance and knowledge to offer us. There are quieter players we also lean on, those who keep our mental game strong. Travelling so much can begin to wear on you after a couple of weeks. With the short but demanding season, class expectations, and life stressors, everything adds up quick and we all know we can depend on our teammates to hold us up. Even though our season is over, we still meet weekly to do team activities and stay a close-knit family.
Moving forward into next season, what can you take from the 2016 campaign?
The sense of family we created. We are potentially losing half our team due to ineligibility and scholarly demands; for those that play sports, you can understand how big of an impact this has on a team. Many of those strong veterans that help shape our team dynamics and make our first-years feel welcome are now leaving holes that need to be filled. At the university level, we are all great softball players, but with being squished in vans and living in hotels for six solid weeks, you need more than just 18 great softball players, you need to become one great team. This year veteran players adopted a rookie, meaning we took them on tours, we helped them out with whatever they needed to make the transition that much easier on them, and gave them a small gift. I think that opening act of kindness really showed what our team is all about and I hope to see those little traditions keep on going in future seasons.
What was the highlight of your season? Why?
Physically, my highlight of the season was at Nationals when I made a routine out in the outfield, nothing out of the ordinary, but as I turned to head back to center field, our first-year right fielder came flying into my arms with excitement. That moment made me realize, ‘Holy shit, I am playing in what could be my last few games as a Cougar softball player.’ Because it is such a short season, we often don’t realize the end is right around the corner and how amazing of an experience it is to compete for a national title. That celebration set the tone and the energy just propelled us straight into our bronze medal win.
Mentally, my highlight was receiving my box of positives. We all have our struggles, with midterms and being on the field six days a week and all life has to throw at us, it can be very tough to put it all in a box when you come to the diamond. We all wrote something funny, positive, or a good memory for each player. Reading those made me realize that we don’t leave the field remembering each other’s weak moments or strikeouts, we remember our teammates for that game-winning hit, their strong leadership of helping us through those tough times. There was literally a golden aura, is the best way I can describe it, that followed our team this season; I’ve never experienced it with any of my other previous two seasons with the Cougars.
Was there much adversity that you ladies had to face throughout the campaign?
Hayley: We faced lots of internal adversity. Even though we are a family all together, we still have our innie and outtie fams [EDITOR’S NOTE: For the lay among us, infielders and outfielders], and we lost a key player in each part. Mikaila, our veteran catcher, suffered an injury about halfway through our season. Her bat, base running, and leadership on the diamond are irreplaceable. Our right fielder veteran Danae LeDrew battled a head injury that didn’t have her touch the field all year; she was a core piece in out outfield, always keeping positive vibes. We felt the impacts, but our first-year rookies stepped up in their place. Regardless of the adversity we faced, we came back even stronger.
To put our season into perspective, we play softball in Saskatchewan in October. We’re out there with leggings on under our pants, double undershirts because we can’t have a jacket over our jerseys, playing through rain to the point where it hurts to hit the ball. You have to be a little crazy to play the game. We showed up to Nationals with a few inches of snow on the field, meaning we had to play indoors. None of us had ever done that, the facility had poor lighting, longer base lengths than normal, and we weren’t using our regular game ball. It definitely turned into a pitcher’s game, meaning we had to adapt and come up with a strategy, as we are generally big hitter[s]. However, the ball wasn’t travelling in the dome and what would normally be homeruns were easily catchable fly balls. It was extremely hard to adapt to see a little black circle coming at you in the outfield or battling the glares of lights level with your eyes, but we managed to make unbelievable plays that helped us win key games. All 18 of us played our roles to the max, it is extremely tough to sit on the bench for what could be three games straight just to get that last-minute call that you need to give us a hit to score a winning run, or pinch-run and give us that extra base. I commend all those players that didn’t have a starting spot, but now that potentially half our team is not returning they have big opportunities coming their way.
Can you explain how the 2016 season ended?
2016 ended with tears of joy as we reached that 21st out, playing with our hearts on our sleeve. There’s a photo of us all running out to our pitcher and catcher, open armed. It speaks volumes. We came back from a 0-2 start to win a bronze medal against extremely strong eastern Canadian teams – that is resilience. For all those that won’t be returning this year, we kind of were all grieving after the high of the bronze medal wore off. Nationals is during Thanksgiving weekend, so if you can imagine the turkey hangover and our softball family breaking up, there were some tears shed over pumpkin pie. It just shows how strong of a group we had become in such a short time.
Is there anything else you’d like to add on the year?
Best of luck to Carmen Hughes and Mikaila Etheredge as they travel to play softball in New Zealand for the next seven months, while we’re all stuck in the cold studying for mid-terms.
Our friends from the Briercrest Clippers Softball team showed us what it’s like to play with passion. They are fairly new to our league and every year they have shown such growth. At the end of our games, regardless of the outcome or religious beliefs, we prayed. It’s a blessing to be able to play our sport, and we constantly wish each other the best in health. It’s a friendship like none other I’ve experienced. We took that support they’ve given us and shared it with the Western Mustangs as a player was injured and taken to hospital during one of our games. We invited them to home plate to share a prayer for the recovery of their teammate; moments like that are so empowering. Softball has taught me so much and blessed me an amazing group of girls to share laughs with during what can be a very stressful time in life.