The NCAA Women’s College World Series was supposed to start today. Three former area standouts — Aliyah Andrews (East Lake/LSU), Cassidy Davis (Newsome/FSU) and Shannon Saile (Land O’ Lakes/Oklahoma) — all played for contending teams.
Instead of possibly finishing their college careers on softball’s biggest stage, the trio are at home watching replays of past World Series games after their senior seasons were cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The NCAA is allowing athletes in spring sports another year of eligibility. Rosters will be expanded to accommodate the addition — and retention — of so many players, particularly incoming freshmen and seniors who were supposed to be departing.
All three local stars said they planned on returning, though none had any idea what kind of scholarship money they would be receiving. For the past three months, they have been at home, ready for a redux of their senior season.
Last week, Andrews, Davis and Saile talked about their reactions once the season was canceled and what they have been doing to stay focused on softball — mentally and physically — once they return.
OF Aliyah Andrews
High school: East Lake
Andrews was in class when LSU coach Beth Torina sent a text to the team informing them they were not going to travel to South Carolina for the opening SEC series.
The season was initially going to be interrupted for two weeks to deal with the virus. So the Tigers practiced that day in March instead of traveling. That was when Andrews and her teammates found out the season was canceled.
“I was very hurt,” Andrews said of the NCAA’s decision. “A lot of times we say that softball is what we do not who we are. But at that moment it felt like it was me, and I was softball. I couldn’t imagine what I was about to do without it, and not knowing what the future had in store for us was even harder.”
Andrews had plenty of family support. Her older sister A.J. starred at Countryside and LSU and became the first female to win a Rawlings Gold Glove. Her younger sister Athena also played at East Lake and will continue her sophomore season at Florida A&M.
Still, the ones Andrews relied on heavily to cope with the abbreviated season were the LSU seniors she played with all those years.
“(My sisters) were helpful and compassionate knowing it was my senior season that ended prematurely,” Andrews said. “I really leaned on my fellow senior teammates, though, the most. Just having those people who are going through it and who know the feeling helped with putting my emotions altogether because we were all feeling the same way.”
Andrews makes due by hitting off a tee into a net or having her sister or mother toss a heavy ball or wiffle ball in the front yard. As for glovework, Andrews usually fields ground balls and fly balls in the street because the grass is too thick. In the past weeks, the Clearwater Bullets travel organization has given the Andrews sisters access to its facility so they can hit in the cages.
P/UTIL Cassidy Davis
High school: Newsome
Davis was in a meeting. The Seminoles’ trip to Duke had already been called off. Word soon spread about the possibility of the World Series being canceled, too. Moments later, Davis saw an announcement from the NCAA. She read it to her teammates.
No more games. No more season.
“I was devastated,” Davis said. “I cried for hours.”
Davis still watches replays of games at home but it is not the same.
“I watch because I miss the game as a whole overall, but it definitely has a bittersweetness to it,” she said. “I know where we would be right now and l would give anything to be in the postseason with my teammates right now.”
Before the season ended, Davis was FSU’s leader in home runs (five) and RBIs (22). The powerful slugger takes her swings by hitting into a net at her family’s home. She also has kept in touch with teammates regarding workouts.
“I’m really excited to get back, just to see my teammates, friends, and coaches,” Davis said.
P Shannon Saile
High school: Land O’ Lakes
Saile was at practice, working on her riseball, when Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso delivered the news about the season abruptly ending.
“I think we were all confused at first,” Saile said. “We thought we might be out for two weeks, then it became the whole season. I couldn’t believe it. We were shocked. I think it took a few for it to even settle in.”
There were some positives. Saile planned to still be on campus this school year to finish her degree. Now, she will be able to do it while continuing to play.
To prepare, Saile works out with former Land O’ Lakes pitcher Callie Turner, now at Tennessee. They throw off a makeshift mound in an area neighborhood designed by Gators assistant coach Vinny Guarracino. The rubber is made from pieces of an old tire. Home plate is assembled from wood.
There are other workout items Saile has at her disposal, all courtesy of the Sooners. She has body bands, medicine balls and jump ropes. Oklahoma even sent her a diamond kinetic ball that can track the velocity, as well as the spin rate and direction, on each pitch.
“It’s been a difficult year, but I think this is going to be a blessing in disguise,” Saile said. “We were going to be pretty good. We have a shot at winning it all.”