It was difficult for IU Coach Michelle Gardner to begin talking about the four seniors on the IU softball roster.
Once she got started, she couldn’t stop.
“They’re four outstanding young women, and I’m excited for their next adventures in life,” Gardner said. “They’ve meant a lot to the program and contributed in their own ways.”
The four seniors that will be honored are catcher Maria Latimer, utility player Erin Lehman, outfielder Kayla Mathewson and infielder CaraMia Tsirigos.
They will play at home for the final time this weekend. IU, 22-28 overall and 8-12 in the Big Ten, welcomes Michigan State, 27-20 overall and 9-11 in conference, to Bloomington to finish regular season conference play.
The three-game series is important for a number of reasons, including determining seeding for next week’s Big Ten Tournament. However, the attention will be focused on IU’s seniors.
Latimer has appeared twice in games with only one at-bat during her four years with IU. She serves as the team’s bullpen catcher, a role Gardner described as “selfless.”
“Anything I need from her she’s going to do, no questions asked,” Gardner said. “Those are the kids who make and break programs, and to me, she’s a program maker.”
Latimer’s parents attended the Jacobs School of Music at IU, and Latimer will head to Washington, D.C., in the fall to attend law school at American University.
“All she wanted was to be part of the program,” Gardner said. “It’s hard to come by kids like that.”
Latimer and Tsirigos have both received two Academic All-Big Ten honors and a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar honor while playing at IU.
Tsirigos was also awarded the Big Ten Medal of Honor in late April for her athletic and scholastic work at IU.
“CaraMia has been a leader since she walked in,” Gardner said. “She had a tough start to her career. Her father passed away before she even played her first season, and she also dealt with a lot of injuries.”
Tsirigos persevered to succeed academically and athletically. She is tied for fifth in program history with 25 career home runs and will attend Georgetown University in the fall to receive a master’s degree in sports industry management.
“I want to be remembered as someone who pushed past mediocrity and tried to push for excellence,” Tsirigos said. “Someone who loved the game and respected the game.”
Lehman is another IU senior who was named an Academic All-Big Ten selection the past two years.
With more than 500 at-bats in an IU uniform, Lehman has been a consistent and steady presence at second base during her career.
“Erin has only one speed — 100 miles per hour,” Gardner said. “She’s had some dings and injuries out there, but she’s not coming off the field.”
The New Palestine, Indiana, native has registered 149 hits with the Hoosiers and plans to complete another semester for her undergraduate degree before going to either physician assistant school or medical school.
“I wouldn’t trade my four years here for anything,” Lehman said. “I’ve learned how to fail and get past it, and I’ve learned how to succeed and be humble.”
The departures of Lehman and Mathewson will leave IU without two of its biggest defensive playmakers. While Lehman is known for making diving catches in and around the infield, Mathewson’s defensive skills are on display in the outfield.
Mathewson didn’t commit an error in her first 59 collegiate games. She will graduate from IU with a degree in human development and family studies.
“Kayla is going to give you everything she has, and then go hit some more,” Gardner said.
The weekend is all about honoring the contributions of IU’s seniors, and a parting gift could come in the form of a series win against Michigan State.
IU is part of a four-way tie for eighth in the Big Ten, with Michigan State only one game ahead in sixth.
A lot will be on the line when the series begins Saturday afternoon. However, Gardner wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They deserve to come out of here with a big series win,” Gardner said. “Every one of them will contribute in one way or another.”
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