For the Bradley softball team, and every other team competing in the NCAA spring season, a question lingers:
What could have been?
Make no mistake, the scenarios that could have played out on a diamond, field or track are trivial when compared to the COVID-19 outbreak. The softball team understands this, as do their opposition. These are not, after all, normal times.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to pause and consider hypotheticals.
The first weekend of March had just concluded, and the Braves were preparing to host Loyola-Chicago for a weekend series, which would have been the first series of Missouri Valley Conference play for both squads. The Braves stood at 14-9, thanks to a strong start to the season that included a season-opening win versus ranked Arkansas and a 7-3 record in the final 10 games played.
But the Braves and Ramblers never took the field on March 14. On March 12, the MVC announced it was suspending all spring sports through March 30, a decision that was followed by the cancelation of the entire season one day later.
“We had kinda been hearing the rumblings of it, but we were just trying not to think about it and take care of what we needed to take care of,” head coach Amy Hayes said. “And for us, we were feeling pretty good … even with our numbers low, we were still playing really good ball, you know, and kids were stepping up, and we felt really good going into the Valley.”
The Braves continued to prepare for the Loyola series as they normally would have, though inclement weather became a primary concern as the week progressed. That all changed, however, by week’s end.
“Thursday or Friday was our last practice and it was pretty sad,” senior Kealia Wysocki said. “We had a scrimmage just to get some last at-bats in.. It was a fun practice, it was good. We kind of all knew the end was nearing, so it was pretty sad leaving the field that day.”
As things stood when the season concluded, Wysocki led the team with 29 hits, 42 total bases and a .433 average. Factor in the pitching efforts of sophomore Grace French, who had amassed a 5-0 record with a 2.75 ERA when play stopped, the Braves were in good shape entering the campaign’s stretch run.
While Wysocki provided the offensive firepower, the efforts of French in the circle often put the Braves in winning positions.
“[Grace] is just so solid, I mean she is just a bulldog,” Hayes said. “We just told her, really I think going into that first weekend or right after that first weekend she was going to have to focus more on pitching. That’s where we really needed her this year. And, she’s a tremendous athlete. She can play any position we needed her to … sometimes you get kickback on that, but not with Grace.”
Wysocki’s 67 at-bats also led Braves, who had been thinned somewhat by injuries in the season’s early stages.
Honestly, my approach was just to relax and not press and just have fun for my last year,” Wysocki said. “It all started going pretty well, so I was just feeling really confident going into the Valley.”
Even so, it was expected that the team would be healthy and ready to compete come crunch time.
“I felt like they were gelling really well, they were super excited for conference and to start,” Hayes said. “It was a bummer. I feel bad for our seniors, to put in all that time and all that work, to have it be clicking, and to feel confident going in and to know that you can win the championship and then not getting an opportunity to even compete for your conference season.”
For Wysocki, what could have been is clear.
“I think this was the best team I had ever been on at Bradley, and I really do think we would have won the Valley if we would have had our season.”