In the middle of Thursday’s practice, Carol Hutchins’s phone rang.
It was Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel.
Right away, Hutchins knew the phone call wouldn’t be an easy one.
She was cognizant of the other mandates that had trickled in across the collegiate landscape throughout the day — the PAC-12 and ACC had both cancelled all sporting events until further notice. So when Manuel called, Hutchins knew what was coming.
Manuel’s words, a message relayed from NCAA President Mark Emmert, only confirmed what had grown to be the inevitable. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all remaining NCAA winter and spring championships were cancelled — softball included.
Her players, in an act of blissful ignorance, continued practice as Hutchins digested the news. It was her job to break it to them. The news that this would be their last gathering, that their season was over 23 games in and at least 30 short.
She stopped practice and pulled her team into their home dugout, symbolically a place of comfort and unity amidst the trying times. A dugout that Hutchins calls “her favorite place in the world,” a dugout those same players wouldn’t be able to convene in as one ever again.
It was an all-too fitting place to cling to whatever last semblance of normalcy was left.
The team was ready for her. And so Hutchins embarked on what she described as the hardest thing she’s ever had to do as a coach.
“It’s just the worst day of every coach’s career right now, telling their student athletes that they’re done,” Hutchins told The Daily. “Probably the hardest day is the last day of the year and you close your last game. But all 36 of my last days have never compared to this.
“And it’s for every student athlete in the country. Every student athlete is affected, all the support people. Even my managers were crying. They’ve worked so hard. Everybody’s in this together. It’s really hard to put in perspective. Today’s a tragedy, in another day this will be a new normal.”
For the seniors, the news rung especially harrowing. Two days before Saturday, what was meant to be their final home opener, their days as collegiate athletes have been cut short.
Outfielder Haley Hoogenraad, outfielder Thais Gonzalez, infielder Madison Uden and catcher Abby Skvarce are finished donning the maize and blue for Michigan softball.
“I just hugged them and told them and that I was proud of them,” Hutchins said. “They were a great senior class. They came a long way from being freshmen and that’s ultimately how you judge people. I’m very proud of those four. They were doing a great job leading us, getting through our ups and downs. I was really proud of them and that’s all I can tell them. My heart breaks most for them.”
For the players, uncertainty lies ahead. Hutchins doesn’t know how much longer they will be on campus. No one knows much about anything in a situation so fluid and unparalleled. So, as Thursday’s practice culminated and the news reverberated in shockwaves, the team did all they could in such an overwhelming moment — rely on each other.
“I know my team will be together,” Hutchins said. “I’m most concerned for those kids right now. What they need more than anything is to be with each other. We need to be together, that’s what we can do in times of grief.”
While the situation is unprecedented, Hutchins has no doubt her team will handle it with grace.
“Our kids are well-equipped. They deal with adversity all the time. They deal with loss, they deal with failure. The most important thing they’ve learned is it’s not if you fall down, it’s if you get up. Our kids will get up.
“They’ll be strong.”
Managing Sports Editor Ethan Sears also contributed to the reporting of this story.