For years, most wondered what it would take to ultimately derail the Hurricane dynasty. As dominant as the Redskins have been in winning five straight championships and six of the last seven, at times it has seemed like it would take divine intervention.
While a worldwide pandemic wouldn’t likely classify as such, the resulting cancellation of school and spring sports has finally halted Hurricane, at least for now.
And while the Redskins didn’t lose their title on the field, that does little to make them feel any better about it – especially a group of six seniors that were trying to cap their careers in a big way.
“It’s hard, obviously it’s devastating,” Hurricane coach Meghan Stevens said. “Knowing it was coming and not being able to comfort them and then to have the hammer drop.
“What do you say to make it better?”
On Saturday, coaches and underclassmen were scheduled to drop by the Hurricane dugout to leave cards and decorations for seniors to stop in and see in the afternoon, all while following social distancing guidelines.
What would have faced Hurricane this season may have been the tallest mountain to climb yet when it comes to the program’s title defenses. The Redskins lost a trio of seniors in catcher Zoey Dunlap, first baseman Taylor McCray and shortstop Caiti Mathes that accounted for 148 runs, 36 home runs and 169 RBIs last season in the middle of the lineup. All three went on to play in college with Mathes at Marshall, Dunlap at Youngstown State and McCray at St. Leo.
Two things were certain heading into this season – senior Harlie Vannatter would keep the Redskins in games in the circle and Lindsey Phares would be an emotional leader and offensive catalyst at second base and near the top of the order. Otherwise, there were a lot of holes to fill and a few players that needed to step up if Hurricane hoped to fend off the likes of Cabell Midland, St. Albans and other contenders around the state.
Yet, over the years, Hurricane has seemed to have found answers when they needed to and Stevens was confident that this squad could have done the same.
Alivia Meeks turned in a fantastic freshman season a year ago, hitting .370 with five home runs from the leadoff spot and likely would’ve moved over from third base to shortstop this season. Fellow sophomores Reagan Boggess and Madison Moon would have likely filled out the infield at first and third base. Boggess would have also logged some innings in the circle in relief of Vannatter.
For now, most thoughts are with seniors who lost their final seasons and the Redskins would have had them across the outfield in Reagan Schultz, Rachel Lyon and Emily Bennett. Marissa Stewart rounded out the upperclassmen and would have found playing time too after coming out for the team as a junior a year ago.
“Obviously, Harlie and Lindsey have been starters since they were freshmen and I’ve see them grow and change from quiet freshmen and looking up at players like Katie Adams, Jayme Bailey and Kiersten Landers,” Stevens said. “I was really excited to see them take a leadership role and make their mark and we were driven to have them go out on top as well. They deserved it.
“And those three [outfielders] are really close. It’s just really hard, they’ve been such a close-knit group.”
Both Phares (Wisconsin-Green Bay) and Vannatter (Bowling Green) will go on to play Division I softball having left an undeniable mark on a program that has been the standard bearer among Mountain State big schools for the better part of a decade. Even without a season this year, that cannot be taken away.
But as much as the wins, statistics, championships, All-State distinctions and individual awards, Hurricane has become known for the personality the team has embraced – one of inseparable camaraderie and one of a team that has worked exceptionally hard toward a common goal while truly enjoying the grind.
It’s those aspects that Stevens said will be missed most.
“It’s just not how you envision it,” Stevens said. “We’ve told them to deal with it however they need to and hopefully in a couple of months we can all get together.
“We were really looking forward to spending this last season together. It really is just all that other stuff – the bus rides together, laughs at practice, the environment in the dugout – we are just such a relationship-driven program.”