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2020 Bulldogs displayed unique talent, chemistry in hot start

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 30, 2020 in Softball

A bus ride of more than 24 hours likely provided the final opportunity for the 2020 Concordia University softball team to be physically together as one. At the time, the Bulldogs had only just begun to show what they were capable of achieving this spring. They had gone 7-1 over a spring break stay in Kissimmee, Fla., and had raced out to a 12-2 record.

There seemed to be so much to look forward to with this shaping up to be perhaps the most athletically gifted Concordia softball team ever assembled. In addition, they were having plenty of fun on the journey, as this video can attest. Head coach Shawn Semler certainly had high hopes.

“I would sit back at times and think, ‘We are just so much better than the other team,’” Semler said. “And I didn’t get that feeling last year. The whole 14 games that we played we just felt like we were going to win no matter what. It was such a resilient team in that if someone made an error or we got behind a couple runs, we were able to come back. Our lineup was so tough to get through. To hold a lead on us was going to be really, really difficult.”

Once the eight-game run in Florida concluded, members of the team hopped back on the bus and started to make their way towards Oklahoma City University for an anticipated matchup that would serve as an ultimate early measuring stick. Only that scheduled doubleheader never happened. On that bus ride, there was plenty of time to ponder what was going on in the world and to read social media posts about the growing concern over the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 14, the GPAC decided to suspend all sports from the period of March 16 through April 5. Inside the conference, Northwestern soon halted all athletics for the remainder of the semester. Then on March 16, the NAIA and GPAC announced the cancellation of spring sports, effective immediately. That was it. Some of the student-athletes on the Concordia roster had played the final game of their collegiate softball careers on March 12 without even knowing it.

“Not to experience a senior day with the seniors and for them not to play out their season is hard,” Semler said. “I’m sure they’re talking to each other and I try to get a hold of them as much as I can through our group chats or phone calls. They have to remember why they’re in school and the education they need to get. It’s a rough time. Normally they would be playing and going to classes on campus. My message has just been to stay safe and do what you’re told. There are things in this world that are more important than softball.”

Before sports went dark, junior Hhana Haro and sophomore Camry Moore had been on a tear. Most teams would be right to be envious of an infield that featured Moore in the circle, shortstop Tori Homolka and second baseman Kylee Nixon up the middle and Haro at third. As a team, the Bulldogs were ranked in the top 10 nationally in runs per game (8.1) and in earned run average (1.73).

Moore took what she learned as a freshman in 2019 and rose to incredible levels this spring. She was hitting .422 with four home runs, 20 RBIs and an .889 slugging percentage. As a pitcher, she was 7-1 with a 1.27 ERA and just four walks allowed in 55 innings. Meanwhile, Haro had an active 12-game hit streak intact and was batting .585 with an .854 slugging percentage. They were a big reason why Concordia outscored its opponents by a combined total of 114-41 through 14 games.

“I’m not sure what other teams were thinking when they got to those two in the lineup,” Semler said. “They were on a different level. They were in a different stratosphere in what they were doing at the plate – and Camry in the circle. It was ridiculous and so much fun. You could see the other kids feed off of that. Then we had that youth coming in playing so well and adding to it. You can throw in Kylee Nixon too. She might have been the leading hitter as far as home runs if she had caught any kind of break. She was on a tear as well. You also have to mention Homolka. It’s just a really good feeling when they’re at the plate.”

As part of the cancellation of spring sports, the NAIA made a quick call not to charge spring sport athletes with a season of competition. Even so, this was the last hurrah for many seniors despite this ruling. Semler made mention of senior Emily Sherstone and junior (athletically) MacKinsey Schmidt. Sherstone already has a teaching job lined up and Schmidt will be continuing her education at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Several others have post-graduate plans of their own.

In other words, a lot had been invested in a promising 2020 season. The final NAIA coaches’ poll came out on March 4, before the Bulldogs had a chance to really make an impression upon people. However, Massey Ratings lists Concordia as the No. 13-ranked team in the NAIA (best among GPAC teams). At this point, it’s guesswork in trying to prognosticate what would have happened.

Following a winter that included a series of Bulldog GPAC championships, the softball squad appeared in position to contend for one of their own and continue that momentum.

Said Semler, “It was a team that was really built to sustain success because we’re so deep. We had so many options to use. We’ll miss those seniors and Mack and how they added to our depth. In the world we’re living in, this is the right decision, but we had a group built to do great things. I’m going to look back years from now and think, ‘Man, that group was really talented.’ Some coaches I talked to were saying the same things. To not be able to back that up and play it out is sad for me.”

Semler has emphasized that the focus right now for his program is finishing this semester strong academically and staying safe. There will be time in the fall to round back into shape with an eye toward competing for a GPAC title in 2021. For now, almost all contact with current players and potential recruits is done by phone or by virtual means. Will there be summer showcases and tournaments to recruit? Everything seems uncertain at this point.

Admitted Semler, “Every coach in America is trying to figure it out.”

Here’s something Semler had figured out – the 2020 Concordia softball team was a fun one to coach.