Softball: Reflecting on shortened season, Palatine's Huff, Barrington's Peterson look to the future
Lights, camera and the action was about to begin.
After opening its season with a tour of five different states, including both coasts, the Northwestern women's softball team returned to Evanston, set to open its Big Ten schedule on March 20 against Michigan State.
"We were kind of hanging in there in all our games and starting to build our momentum," said freshman Grace Huff, a Palatine grad who along with Wildcats classmate Kendall Peterson, a Barrington alum, were the 2019 Daily Herald all-area captains for the Northwest suburbs.
Then came the news.
"It was on that Thursday (March 12) when we went to practice for a 2 p.m. meeting," Peterson said. "Kate (Drohan, Wildcats head coach along with her twin Caryl, associate head coach) were talking to us about the logistics of what could happen (with the COVID-19 pandemic) but nothing was for sure.
"Then our trainer turned to her and said 'Kate you might want to look at your email' and when she did, there were a couple of minutes of silence. Then she said the season was canceled. It was very emotional for everyone."
Huff and Peterson, beginning their first season at the next level after terrific prep careers, can take solace that they have at least three more years left.
They still are not sure if they would get an extra year of eligibility due to their shortened rookie seasons.
"I love the game and don't plan on leaving it any time soon," Huff said. "If I had the opportunity (for four more years), I think I would take it."
Peterson, majoring in learning and organizational change, thinks along the same lines.
"I love softball," she said. "As long as I can play the game, I would love an extra year."
Peterson loved the first month of her collegiate season.
"It was amazing," she said. "I think it was one of the most life-changing, eye-opening experiences. I'm really grateful we got to travel like that."
The Wildcats began the season facing nationally-ranked competition.
"That's something we talk about at Northwestern," Peterson said. "We have the best schedule in the nation. Not only did we see amazing venues and locations, we also played really good teams which I think would really have had us prepare to play our Big Ten schedule.
"It's just part of the winning culture in our program that I was used to at Barrington. There's not much of a difference."
Huff said the adjustment has been rather smooth to the collegiate level.
"It was a little different but my teammates were super welcoming and all of them were there for me," she said. "It's a higher level of play for sure."
It will be quite a change for Peterson and Huff to be studying in their third semester next week and not playing softball.
"It's really crazy to think about that," said Huff, a biomedical engineering major. "I've played softball every spring since I started playing. It's weird to think I won't be able to do that in our third quarter of school."
"As a student-athlete at Northwestern, you are given so many resources," said Peterson, who is tied for first for the best career batting average in Barrington softball history (. 441). "I want to be able to take advantage of them. There are so many people at Northwestern willing to help you so academics is something I really enjoy."
Huff and Peterson, though, would love to be enjoying their academics combined with a Big Ten season.
"It really hurts that we can't continue our season," said Huff, who got to play in the IHSA state finals when Palatine took third two years ago.
"I think the best way to describe it is that we were all just heartbroken. We were devastated. I think it helps a lot that we were all together at the moment we heard the season was over."
"We were grieving together," Peterson said. "It was crazy. It didn't even seem real It was a very sad moment."
The Wildcats met for one final time on their home field the day after they learned the season was over.
"It was interesting because something just didn't feel right," Peterson said. "It was a 50-degree afternoon, the birds were chirping, the sun was out."
Perfect softball weather. Like right out of the movies.