No. 1 UCLA softball looks back on winning season, considers future of team
Redshirt junior outfielder Aaliyah Jordan hit for a team-high .435 batting average in No. 1 UCLA softball’s abridged 2020 season. The Bruins had been playing for a chance to repeat as NCAA champions before the cancellation of winter and spring sports. (Daily Bruin file photo)
By Coral Smith
April 15, 2020 9:08 p.m.
A month on from the unexpected early end to the Bruins’ season, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said she will never forget the uncertainty she felt when the team found out the year was over.
“It’s just a day I’ll never forget, that lack of clarity, a lot of emotion and not really knowing as a head coach. I had a perfect practice plan in place, and what we were going to do that night in getting ready for (Pac-12 play), and everything kind of got turned upside down,” Inouye-Perez said.
No. 1 UCLA softball’s 2020 season was cut short when the NCAA made the decision to suspend sports for the rest of the school year because of the spread of the novel coronavirus. Forced to end its campaign before it could really begin, the Bruin squad has had to grapple with the questions of what could have been and what the future may hold for a team that was in position to win it all this year.
UCLA was picked as one of the favorites to win the 2020 Women’s College World Series coming into the season after having won it all in 2019, and nonconference play gave indications that the Bruins would return to Oklahoma City for a chance to go back-to-back.
After starting the season with 15 straight wins, UCLA rose to the No. 1 spot in the national polls within the first few weeks. The Bruins held an NCAA-best record of 25-1 at the time of the cancellation announcement, which came the night before UCLA was set to start conference play.
“When it first happened, me and (senior outfielder) Jacqui Prober were just sitting on the couch, and we heard about all these things getting canceled, and so we were just sitting there waiting for the call. And then we finally heard the news on Twitter, and I think I laughed, because I didn’t believe it,” said redshirt junior outfielder Aaliyah Jordan. “It wasn’t until we had our team meeting later, where it really just hit me like, ‘Dang, I’m not going to be able to play this season.'”
In addition to having to cut the season short without a chance at the national championship, UCLA’s two players set to graduate, Prober and graduate catcher/utility Jenavee Peres, will now also have to make a hard decision of whether they will be able to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility afforded by the NCAA to spring sport athletes, or move on from the sport as planned.
“We’re still not sure. (Peres) is in grad school, so her plan had been to come back and be able to have that year to play (this season), and (Prober) was planning to graduate, so she’s also someone who figuring out what her future is. As far as us wanting both of them back, we do,” Inouye-Perez said. “Everyone’s in this state of unknown, … but I just want what’s best for the athletes (and) as soon as they’re presented with all of the facts, that will allow them to make the best decision for themselves.”
Despite all of the uncertainty still in the air for the Bruins, freshman utility Maya Brady said in the meantime the team is just trying to adjust to the new normal, waiting to get clarity on what the future holds for UCLA softball.
“It was initially a shock obviously, it didn’t really hit that the season was truly over until we had a final meeting,” Brady said. “Obviously we’re devastated, but this is bigger than softball.”