With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning on May 16 in College Park, Maryland, Terrapins senior third baseman Sammie Stefan hit a ground ball to IU softball’s senior third baseman Grayson Radcliffe.
As soon as the ball hit senior first baseman Annika Baez’s glove, and IU won the final game of the 2021 season 3-2, the senior class finished their careers wearing the Indiana script.
It took a long time to get there.
On March 12, 2020, IU softball was in Madeira Beach, Florida, playing against the University of Toledo. During the sixth inning, the Big Ten announced that all spring sports would be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Everything was up in the air.
“If the seniors were granted an extra year of eligibility and had the opportunity to get back, what would you do,” head coach Shonda Stanton asked the seniors in a meeting with the team after the sudden news broke.
Players across the nation were suddenly unsure if their athletic careers had just ended. Some of the league’s players took to Twitter to ask the NCAA for another year of eligibility, including IU’s senior left fielder Gabbi Jenkins.
“All of us were in very different spots,” senior catcher Bella Norton said. “I was the only one that was going to leave Bloomington. I had a job lined up, so I had a lot to think about before making a decision.”
On March 30, 2020, the extra year was officially granted by the NCAA.
Jenkins, Norton, pitcher Emily Goodin and second baseman Katie Lacefield were given an option to come back for a fifth year. With Baez, Radcliffe and center fielder Taylor Lambert, the new senior class was up to seven.
“I know personally for me, it's been a constant mindset of not taking anything for granted,” Goodin said.
But it wasn’t easy to get everyone back for another year.
Goodin said she’d be back, joining Lacefield and Jenkins. Norton had to decide whether to take the job or return to IU — if they were asked back at all.
Other Big Ten players were not offered a fifth year from their schools.
“We were very fortunate for the coaches who allowed us to take our fifth year, but also the staff that welcomed us,” Jenkins said.
As the two senior classes merged, they welcomed one more member to the team — Micah Schroeder, a graduate transfer utility player from Dartmouth College.
As she was getting recruited by other Big Ten schools, Schroeder started looking at the academic side of what each school offered. Once she found the Kelley School of Business and saw the program, she knew it was the perfect fit for her.
“All I can say in terms of my year here is gratitude, not only for the team but for everyone who welcomed me with open arms for when I didn’t know if I was going to get another year.” Schroeder said.
The canceled season had its benefits — the seniors got even closer with each other.
They were constantly on zoom calls, be it having TED Talk Tuesdays, where each member presented on something they were passionate about outside of softball, or doing workouts on Zoom.
“It definitely did make us closer as a class,” Lacefield said. “To go through something that emotional as a class and to get something ripped away that you love, it brings you together.