Rhody Softball returns to practice in new normal. Photo from @RhodySoftball on Twitter

The Rams season was already moving in the wrong direction when they were set to face Northern Illinois back in March. The team was 4-16 on the season and was in the middle of an 11-game losing streak where they had been outscored 72-14. This game would not be played due to the NCAA’s decision to cancel all competitions during the spring season because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The unexpected time off gave position groups and the team as a whole a chance to reconnect virtually to reinforce the team’s culture, philosophies and do everything to be champions on and off the field, better known within the program as “For the Dogpile.”

A major emphasis for the team this year, Head Coach Bridget Hurlman defines “For the Dogpile” as doing the little things everyday with a championship mindset with the ultimate goal of laying in a dogpile aftering winning a championship.

 “That’s a really big part of our team’s culture this year,” said redshirt senior Erika Yeager. “For me personally, that’s being able to look into the mirror everyday and to say that everything and every choice you made today was to make yourself better and to get ourselves to that dogpile in the center of the field after winning a championship.”

For Yeager, it was the feeling of not being in control that made the situation extremely difficult. 

“It was definitely very hard knowing how sudden it all was,” Yeager said. “We felt like something was being stripped away from us that we had been prepping for for so long.”  

Fortunately for Yeager and the other seniors on the team, the NCAA granted all spring athletes an additional year of eligibility. This gave Yeager and the other three seniors returning this season, Erica Robles, Alex Pleasic and Caileigh Holland, another opportunity to finish out their softball careers on their own terms. Along with excitement at the news, Yeager called it “a big sigh of relief.”

After a six-month layoff, the team returned to the diamond for preseason workouts a few weeks ago. Traditionally, the team would be playing in fall ball tournaments against other schools, but they could not occur because of COVID-19. Instead, players have been split into small functional groups to work on batting, fielding and other technical skills. 

“It’s been very different entering offseason mode and being in small groups, but we are all super grateful to be playing,” Yeager said.

Hurlman credits her leadership committee, which consists of Yeager, Robles, redshirt junior Abby Fenbert and sophomore Rachel Zingerman, for steering the team towards having a championship mindset each and every day. She also praised her staff and her players for embracing the challenges that have come with returning to play during the pandemic and taking all the necessary steps to combat the virus.

“They have come in and taken the challenges in stride,” Hurlman said. “They’ve shown that their priority is to keep training and doing the things to keep the university community safe.” 

This year, the program welcomed seven freshmen and a junior college transfer to the roster. Ainsley Yoshizumi, Margaux Lesser, Emily Spingarn, Emily Schumacher, Maddie Melice, Vicki Viaclovsky, Maya Renfro and Blinn College transfer Gabi Lopez are all expected to make their debuts this upcoming season. Hurlman is thrilled with what this class adds to the rest of the roster. 

“As a group, they have a clear picture of what they would like to achieve,” Hurlman said. “They have a good idea of what is expected from them, but they also come with clear goals in their own mind about how they are going to achieve what they want to achieve.” 

Hurlman’s expectations for this upcoming season are simple–– to experience the triumph of a dogpile at the end of a championship season.

“We want to win,” Hurlman said. “This group is very committed to making this a championship program and ultimately, we see ourselves winning the A-10 championship this season.”