Flexibility is the word of the year for Centralia College softball.
On Thursday, six infielders met at Borst Park Sports Complex’s Field 5 to take part in their second softball practice of the 2020-21 season. The Trailblazers, along with every other collegiate team, are following a list of required guidelines set forth by the NCAA to return to play.
It’s a four-phase system and the Blazers just completed phase one, a two-week gray phase where all the players are encouraged to stay home and quarantine as much as possible.
The team is currently in phase two, the red phase, where teams can practice with half the players at one time. It has split the team into two practice groups: outfielders on Mondays and Wednesday and infielders on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The team will stay in the red phase for two weeks then move into the yellow phase, where the entire team can practice together at one time. The final phase, the green phase, is a greenlight to do basically whatever the team was able to do before the pandemic.
On top of all this, players have to track and record every place they travel to, on an online spreadsheet, whether it’s to the Fuller’s Market or Tacos El Rey. It helps the team track whether or not a player is at risk if there is an outbreak somewhere in the county. And if any player contracts COVID-19 during these phases, the team has to start all the way back at phase one.
“The girls have been doing good,” coach Katie Aden said. “It seems like they’ve been keeping up with all the tasks that they need to do. I think the hardest thing for them is tracking.”
Every practice starts with a temperature reading of each player and making sure they don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms. Masks are not required so long as players remain six feet apart.
After the team finishes all its phases this fall, the team will head into winter break for a short reprieve. When they return, they start the phases all over again.
The extensive catalog of guidelines has already taken a blow on the team. Five players have elected to opt out of the season, saying it was either too much hassle or they didn’t want to risk their health during the pandemic. It’s not an isolated incident eithert, Aden said. The baseball and soccer teams each lost about 10 players as well.
“It’s definitely affected everybody in a big way,” Aden said.
But the start of this past week was a time to rejoice and look ahead as the Blazers took the field for the first time since early March. It was the longest stretch that Aden hadn’t been on a softball field regularly in 22 years.
“So much energy, so much energy,” Aden said. “We were dying. I was screaming, hooting and hollering when we were out here.”
Practice is the one bright spot in many of the players’ lives right now. Monday and Tuesday consisted of defensive drills. Outfield worked on drops steps, fielding the ball cleanly, crow hops and making sure they complete solid throws. Infield has been working on proper fielding form, fielding the ball on short hops and basically getting as many reps in as possible.
Thursday was the first day the infielders were able to hit live balls, then they worked on baserunning and overall conditioning.
The players were equally excited. Freshman Katie Adkins, a 2020 Willapa Valley grad, who is the starting shortstop this season, drives all the way from her parent’s home in Menlo to attend practice.
“It is so relieving,” Adkins said. “I love it so much. It makes me feel so much better. I love it. It’s a happy place. I have homework all day, then I get to come here and it’s my own little world where everything leaves and I’m just living the good life.”
Adkins’ classes were moved to all online. Intro to statistics is through Zoom, then intro to chemistry and English 101 are both online. It involves watching videos of lectures every day. With everything online, Adkins decided to stay home, save money by not paying rent on an apartment and drive the hour from Pacific County to Centralia two times a week for practice.
“It’s a pain, it’s hard,” Adkins said. “But I’m getting used to it. I’m adjusting.”
The Trailblazers will not have a fall ball season as the Northwest Athletic Conference modified its athletic calendar back in July. All NWAC softball teams will now begin competition in mid-February.