WESTFIELD – One year ago, the St. Mary High School softball team re-launched its program after a decade-long absence. The Saints, which played out their year as a junior varsity team, went a perfect 17-0.
They will finish the 2020 season unbeaten again.
“We were just starting captains’ practices … when it was announced that kids weren’t going back to school and everything would be shut down (temporarily),” St. Mary’s softball co-coach Mike Kosinski said regarding the pandemic. “I communicated with our team’s players and parents and told them to hang tight, practice on their own and stay ready for the season.”
Initial reports from players working out on their own at home were positive. Coach Kosinski’s daughter Anna, a senior captain, maintained constant contact with teammates via phone.
“She was kind of our vehicle of communication right through the whole thing, kept encouraging (players) to get things going with workouts at home,” coach Kosinski said of his ace pitcher and clean-up batter.
But soon, schools would cancel classes for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Finally, the official word was handed down that the spring sports season was over before it ever began.
“It was very hard on all the girls, especially this season,” coach Kosinski explained. “This was their time to shine; the whole team was primed to do really well.”
After overwhelmingly subduing their JV opponents in 2019, expectations were extremely high for their first season back as a varsity team. St. Mary’s was expected to contend immediately in Division 3 with several D1 programs also on the schedule.
“Obviously we had a fantastic year as a start-up program,” coach Kosinski said. “Most of the girls waited a whole year just to play St. Mary softball. This was the girls year to do really well and dominate. …Then it came to a screeching halt.”
Anna Kosinski is not the only player going to miss out on her final softball year. Seniors Abbi Shannahan, Emma Suchy, and Kaylee Hamel were also expected to contribute to the team this season.
“We were all seniors in high school at one point in time,” coach Kosinski said. “I feel bad that they miss out on the last activity that they get for high school.”
Despite a lost season, there are still some lasting memories.
“One of the key moments halfway through the (2019) season came in the fourth inning,” coach Kosinski said, “when the coach from the other team said very loudly to his players ‘Look at these girls. This is the way we should be playing softball.’ All of our girls heard that and had smiles on their faces. That, right there, is worth more than the record.”
“These girls are selfless,” he added. “There wasn’t one girl on our team that needed to show off. …That’s what made it so much fun.”
The coronavirus struck a nerve with St. Mary’s student-athletes to a much greater degree when players learned that their principal and athletic director Matthew Collins was hospitalized with COVID-19. Collins successfully recovered, but news that the virus had infected one of their own hit home.
“Our players were frustrated and angry that the season was canceled and of not being in school,” coach Kosinski said. “When Mr. Collins was infected, girls had a lot more understanding. He puts his heart and soul into the school. Sports are fun and an important part of life, but health is number one.”
Although his daughter Anna and her fellow senior teammates will not return in 2021, coach Kosinski said he feels indebted to the rest of the team to come back for another year.
“I know all the underclassmen will be chomping at the bit next year,” he said. “They’re going to want to continue on. I feel like I owe it to the team to bridge that (lost) year and make 2021 even more important.”
Rest assured, it is likely the Saints will rise again.