May 18—Kutztown University softball players and coaches are glad their season didn't end with a loss in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference semifinals.
But as the Golden Bears get ready to host the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region Tournament, coach Judy Lawes and her players are just grateful that they had a season at all.
"First we're just really happy and fortunate that we played," Lawes said. "There's was a lot of uncertainty as to whether we'd even have a season."
And what a season the Golden Bears had after their 2020 campaign was ended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and the fall campaign was canceled.
The Golden Bears (32-13) are the No. 1 seed for the Atlantic Region Tournament that starts today at North Campus Field. Kutztown will play its first game Thursday at 10 a.m. against the winner of today's West Liberty-East Stroudsburg game.
Lawes, in her 34th season as head coach, in March became just the 14th NCAA Division II coach to reach 1,000 career wins. She was voted the PSAC East Coach of the Year for the eighth time.
The Golden Bears, who had a 13-game winning streak during the season and earned a top 25 national ranking, also had several players earn awards.
Freshman slugger Brianna Hughes was voted the PSAC East Rookie of the Year and voted to the All-PSAC East first team along with junior pitcher Bridget Bailey. Bailey was the Rookie of the Year in 2019.
Bailey and senior Jenna Lipowski were voted to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division II All-Atlantic Region Team.
But the PSAC Tournament didn't end the way the Golden Bears had hoped. They fell to West Chester in the third game of a best-of-three semifinal series and are looking to make amends.
West Chester is the No. 3 seed in the tournament that includes second-seeded Shepherd and No. 6 Claflin.
"Now we know what the team brings and we know what we have to do to beat them," said senior infielder Zoe Texidor, an Exeter grad. "It's awesome that we get to see them again."
West Chester, which went on to win the PSAC championship, is one of four teams from the PSAC East in the regional tournament. The Golden Bears have played West Chester seven times, East Stroudsburg six times and Shepard four times.
"Our league is just really strong and we just keep banging heads," Lawes said. "We know our opponents."
The Golden Bears had trouble getting to know each other during the early part of the season. Without a fall season for the incoming freshman and no spring trips to South Carolina and Florida this year due to the pandemic, it took longer for the team to come together.
"We've been trying to team bond," Texidor said. "We had to do it all in the spring but I think we've gotten over that and we're at the point where we're comfortable with each other."
One player Texidor certainly is familiar and comfortable with is her twin sister, Paola. They played together for four years at Exeter and have been at Kutztown for the last four.
Zoe, who plays third base, and Paola, who plays left field, also plan to come back for a fifth year in 2022 since the NCAA has granted athletes an extra year of eligibility because the 2020 season was canceled.
"It's been a great experience, definitely better than I thought," Paola said. "Every year has gotten better. Every year I get more experience and more knowledge, and the group of girls that I've gotten to play with has been amazing. I can't wait to come back next year."
Before then, the Golden Bears will try to win the regional tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament in Denver May 27-31 and get back on track after the disappointment in the PSAC Tournament.
"We're hoping to make up for it now in the regional," Lawes said.