Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Women's Softball: UIS softball team’s lone senior, Bree Derhake, copes with shortened season

Initial reports that the softball season was likely going to be suspended descended on University of Illinois Springfield senior shortstop Bree Derhake amid her at-bat during practice on Thursday.

The NCAA announced that day it had indeed canceled its spring championship tournaments, and it was only the beginning as the coronavirus pandemic engulfed the United States.

UIS softball coach Shannon Guthrie summoned a team meeting after Thursday’s practice to prepare the players for the worst — and hope for the best. Derhake, the team’s lone senior, did her best to put on a brave face, but that was dispelled by the magnitude of the moment.

“I wanted to stay strong for my teammates because they’re also losing a season, but I couldn’t hold it in. I cried a lot,” Derhake said. “It was really hard, but my teammates had my back. We had an emotional talk in the locker room, and I looked at Shannon and I was like, ‘Can I just get my (Great Lakes Valley Conference regular season) championship ring from my sophomore year before we leave the school year?’

Shannon went and got my ring for me, and I’m the first person to have it on our team since we won the GLVC championship in 2018. That was a touching moment. It meant so much.”

The Great Lakes Valley Conference suspended all spring sports activities until April 6 and canceled its remaining conference tournaments the following day. That includes UIS’ baseball team and its track and field program. Both the baseball and softball teams were coming off consecutive postseasons in the NCAA Division II tournament. Even if the softball team gets to resume its season after April 6, only 12 games remain on the schedule.

“It was good to do it in person,” Guthrie said of the fateful Thursday meeting with the team. “It’s really hard. No one’s ever been through anything like this before, and there aren’t any right words or anything. We just felt the important part was to be together and make sure that we were there for Bree, our one senior. It’s really about her at that point and making sure she knows that everyone is there for her still. None of us would wish that upon anyone, to have their senior season end like that. To be honest, I think they’re handling it as well as anyone could hope. I know it’s heartbreaking.” 

If there are any positives to glean from her experience, she has received considerable support from the Springfield softball community.

Derhake also said her life isn’t going to be solely defined by softball. While she may have had a chance to return to UIS for one more season, she had already decided to pursue a doctorate degree in physical therapy starting this June at Northern Illinois University.

This article appeared in The State Journal Register on March 17, 2020.

Read the entire article online.