Things were looking up for the softball team before COVID-19 hit, seeing them off to a dominant 22-2 start that had them looking primed to make a serious run under their second-year head coach, Melyssa Lombardi. Not only that, they were poised to make a solid rebound after posting a 22-30 record in 2019.
While the cancellation of the 2020 season was initially a disappointment for everyone involved, it also provided new opportunities as the NCAA granted all spring athletes an extra year of eligibility.
Haley Cruse and Jasmine Sievers are just two more in a long line of spring athletes who had to go home early and didn’t get the chance to accomplish what they set out for.
Cruse, an outfielder from San Diego, California, was having her best season yet during her senior year, hitting a powerful .457/.505/.630. Her slugging percentage in particular was .122 higher than her previous career best.
“It all happened very suddenly, and no one was expecting it, and I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to play another softball game again,” Cruse said after finding out her season had come to an end. “So it was very emotional, but it all worked out for the best.”
For Cruse, it wasn’t a question of whether she wanted to come back, but whether she would be able to.
“There was a little bit of uncertainty just because I had been so set on entering the job force this year, and I had to kind of wrap my head around the fact that that might not be happening,” she said. “So once I got the news that I was able to come back, I was very excited and I called my coach right away.”
Sievers, a sophomore shortstop from Mission Viejo, California, didn’t hold back her excitement that Cruse, as well as pitcher Samaria Diaz, would be returning for her fifth year.
“Obviously Haley’s one of my best friends,” said Sievers. “We’re so lucky to have them both, and they’re going to be the veterans on our team.”
Sievers was off to a slower start in the abbreviated 2020 season, batting just .231/.282/.323 after a .326/.379/.545 line her freshman year, but has been using the quarantine to make adjustments and improve for what should be a full 2021 campaign.
“I’m not used to failure… I didn’t know how to deal with it, and it was something that was new to me,” she said. “I just really got down on myself, and I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, and I was trying to make all these adjustments instead of really just letting it play out and knowing that I’m there for a reason.”
Sievers has been using the extended time off to train and reflect, and is putting an emphasis on improving her mental game for next season.
“It was kind of a blessing that I got to come home and spend time with my family,” she said. “And I’ve built better relationships with people in my family… I’ve been doing the best that I can to try to make it a point to work out almost every single day.”
Cruse has also been using this time to work out as she aims to make the most out of her final college softball season.
“I’ve been trying to use whatever resources I have available to me to stay in shape both physically and with softball, and I’ve been trying to find open fields wherever I can,” she said. “Some of our batting cages just opened up, so I’ve been going there a lot, and really just trying to use this time as preparation rather than as a vacation.”
In addition to the upcoming return of Cruse and Diaz, the Ducks are set to add five highly regarded prep signees, three of whom are ranked among the top 50 prospects in the nation. With these additions, Sievers thinks the team has a chance to come out even stronger next year than they did this year.
“It’s going to be amazing to see the depth of our roster and how we can all contribute, and we’re all going to make a difference and impact on the program,” she said.
Cruse and Sievers have also used some of their free time to work on their dance videos, which have gained a large social media following and have served as a breath of fresh air during these trying times.
“We filmed the videos to show that we were okay; we were going through a lot during my freshman season and Haley’s senior season,” Sievers said. “We just wanted to show everyone that it’s okay, and we were still having fun and still having a good time with each other.”
Even though they can’t be together with all of their teammates right now, Cruse and Sievers have still been staying in touch and keeping in close contact to maintain the team energy going into next season.
“Our chemistry is just so amazing and we are so close with one another that it’s like if I don’t talk to them, then it’s so weird and I feel out of place,” Sievers said.
Ultimately, Cruse, Sievers and the rest of the team are fighting towards one common goal: to get back to the Women’s College World Series. Prior to the 2019 season, the Ducks had made it to Oklahoma City five times in the span of seven years under former head coach Mike White, although the team is yet to win a national championship.
“I know that this is an uncertain time, but it’s all going to pay off,” Cruse said. “Jane Sanders Stadium is going to be as electric as ever.”