“Stay up all night, go get ice cream and just be teammates, because tomorrow you probably won’t be.”
This was the advice given to Chloe Camarero, twin sisters Faith and Lauren Hoe and the rest of the Weber State University softball team as they pressed for answers regarding the implications that COVID-19 would have on their 2019-20 season.
The next day, March 12, 2020, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced that it was canceling all winter championships and spring sports seasons.
When asked to reflect on when the season was canceled, Camarero, a fourth-year infielder from San Diego county, shook her head as if still in disbelief while saying, “How could you ever expect a pandemic?”
She’s right—how could you? The Wildcats were going to attempt to repeat their 2019 Big Sky Tournament win, but instead they were bundled up together as tears streamed down their faces, not because they suffered defeat, but because their season was lost.
On the morning of March 8, 2020, the ‘Cats had just beat the Pacific Tigers 5—3. Five hours later, they were set to have a matchup with the Nevada Wolfpack, who was the host of the tournament. The doubleheader never happened; WSU suffered their first cancellation of the year.
Weber State was only 12 days away from playing their first game against a conference opponent and 16 days away from their home opener against the Utah Valley Wolverines.
In the 2018-19 season, they were dominant against their Big Sky opponents. WSU racked up a record of 14—2 and were awarded the crown of conference champions.
Lauren Hoe, a third-year catcher from Walla Walla, Washington, feels a strong contrast between playing conference games compared to non-conference games. She describes it as two different worlds.
“Before league, you play about five games during the weekend and you don’t know your opponents outside of the little bit of scouting. You’re learning during the game,” Lauren Hoe said. “Once league starts, you’re playing the same team three times, and you know all of the hitters, pitchers and practice against certain types of pitches all week. It’s a lot more pressure.”
Faith Hoe echoed how her twin sister felt, but also added that while losing is never an option, it’s not acceptable when going against teams in your conference.
“There’s an intensity in those games that are just not there for the others. You don’t want to lose ever, but you primarily don’t want to lose against those teams. You will do anything to win and every at-bat matters in those seven innings,” Faith said.
Not long after the NCAA canceled its seasons did college campuses also begin to close. This left students everywhere scurrying to find out if they would be staying in town or going back home to their families. After sticking around for a couple of weeks to bond with their senior teammates, Camarero and the Hoe sisters would not return to Ogden for another six months.
Those last few days in Ogden were special for the trio; they had built bonds with their older teammates and learned a lot in the process. It’s been nearly a year since the season was canned, but to this day, the fact they didn’t get the exit a senior deserves does not sit right with Camarero.
“If you look at the legacy that they left and all they’ve done for the past four years. . . out of all the classes that deserved such a grand ending, they didn’t get it. That was heartbreaking,” Camarero said.
The legacy of the senior class includes a win in the regional round of the NCAA tournament over Cal State Fullerton, which marked the first time in the history of the Big Sky that one of their teams notched a win in the tournament. The other two teams they faced during the round were UCLA, who won the national championship, and the Missouri Tigers.
Through that long journey that ended on May 18, 2019, in Los Angeles, the media coverage, fan attendance and recognition from the locals were lackluster. A silence that has resonated to this day. Weeks before the team made history, they were subject to an unfair headline after suffering a lopsided defeat against the Utah State Aggies.
The reason is glaring, and it’s okay to say it how it is: female athletes have been treated differently than male athletes for as long as they’ve played. There is a level of respect and interest that has been earned but ignored for quite some time and the consequences for it are non-existent. Yet through it all, they’ve still managed to make progress.
Lauren Hoe is rejuvenated about the progress that’s being made and gave a nod to Monica Abbott, a former all-American pitcher at the University of Tennessee, who received the first million dollar contract in the history of the sport at the end of spring 2016.
“I’m so excited for the sport of softball. We got our first million dollar contract for a pitcher in a pro league, they are building more seats at the hall of fame stadium, ESPN’s Holly Rowe comes to softball games and announces for us. Overall it’s sad to see where women’s sports are, but our sport specifically is growing and that’s something we take into account,” Lauren Hoe said.
Being a team that resides in the Big Sky, the Wildcats are typically much smaller than out-of-conference teams, but they embrace the role of David while battling Goliath.
“Softball is a cool sport, and it’s a cool time to be playing. In the years that we’ve been in college, it’s grown leaps and bounds,” said Faith Hoe. “I think it develops an underdog mentality that you take onto the field. We’re not afraid to admit that we’re going to be a smaller team than [the University of] Utah, Utah State or UW, so we go in with a mentality like we have nothing to lose.”
Faith Hoe went on to detail the lack of elite softball that is found in the state of Washington and recalls traveling to California to go against high-quality teams while pointing out that while Chloe is from the golden state, her high school also wasn’t a premier program.
“When we came here [to Weber], we were just happy to have uniforms and to keep playing the sport that we love. It’s given us the gift of not having expectations, and we just play as hard as we can. We’re honored to be here and love wearing Weber State across our chest,” she said.
Athletic programs throughout the country are powered by both football and men’s basketball thanks to the revenue that is brought in during their respective seasons, which is what Lauren nodded at when explaining there is no bitterness towards other teams at the school.
“A lot of the girls on the team are appreciative of our male sports because we know that without them, we wouldn’t be where we are. Without football and basketball, we probably wouldn’t even be able to have a team, so although the situations that we are put in are tough, we always want to go support them,” said Faith Hoe. “We’re happy for them and we know that the higher they get with credit and fame, the higher we get as well.”
Gradually, the perception of women’s sports is beginning to shift. For evidence of that, look no further than the United States soccer team.
“The first thing that comes into my head is women’s soccer. When you look back at what they did, their exposure skyrocketed and they gained so many new fans. Through that, we achieved lots of different avenues in sports and I think that’s what helped every women’s sport gain a lot of attention,” said Camarero. “We’re women and we can do anything.”
As women’s sports continue to reach new heights, the women’s softball program will look to do so as well. They are 22 days away from their return to the diamond and the elation is prevalent.
Faith is ready to get back to rooting for her teammates rather than constantly facing off against them at practice.
“I’m tired of hitting off our pitchers. I’m ready to be in the dugout cheering for each other rather than facing off against each other and saying, ‘Why does she keep hitting it?’ or ‘Why does she keep striking me out?’ instead of just being happy for them. Now I can cheer them on wholeheartedly, and it’s just an awesome time that we’re about to enter,” Faith said.
Camarero is ready for the intensity to be channeled at an opponent instead of each other.
“Faith said this the other day, but WSU softball, in general, is very competitive, and when scrimmaging each other it can get intense sometimes, so it’s going to be exciting to be back as one in that dugout and cheering,” said Camarero.
Lauren Hoe is looking forward to the unity that comes along with watching her teammates shine once conference play starts to roll around.
“When you get into league play, you just get close with this group of girls that come with connections that you can’t make at practice. You go through tough times and you just become close,” Lauren Hoe said. “Another thing I’m excited to see is our teammates step up and be studs, get recognized, and get posted all over social media while hopefully making it back to the NCAA tournament.”
Weber State softball has a motto when facing off against Big Sky teams: sweep teams, don’t settle for a draw. They won’t face off against a Big Sky team until March 26, but they will make their season debut on Feb. 12 against the Oregon Ducks in Phoenix at the Grand Canyon Kickoff.