Varsity spring sports obituaries: An unceremonious ending for graduating athletes

Sarah Parr, Director of Business Operations

Women’s varsity sports

Today we mourn the senior students on Case Western Reserve University’s women’s varsity track and field, and softball teams’ chances to finish their collegiate sport career the way they’d always planned. 

Softball seniors include Nicole Carty, Melissa Cuellar, Ilissa Hamilton and Caitlin Smith, while women’s track and field seniors include Emily Herrmann, Samantha Kelts, Maria King, Madeline Lindemann, Bailey Flint and Abbey Waltz.

Fourth-year pitcher and outfielder Ilissa Hamilton would have played three complete seasons at CWRU after transferring from Drexel University after her first year. 

“This sport is so much more than just a game to me,” Hamilton said. “It is a way for me to develop as a listener, a leader and a teammate, and I will take the lessons I learned from the sport into my professional career.” 

Collegiate sports are more than just games to their players; Hamilton estimates she and her teammates spend around 15 hours per week on softball pre- and post-season, and closer to 30 hours per week during the season, including travel.

Abrupt endings can be especially tough if you put extra time into the sport. First and third baseman, fourth-year Melissa Cuellar, has played at CWRU her whole college career. She injured her shoulder this fall and had to undergo surgery in November, which meant she needed to dedicate even more effort to get back on the field. 

“I had spent countless hours at [physical therapy] getting my shoulder strong … Once the season started, I spent a large sum of time at Veale for practice, lift, rehab and talking to coaches,” Cuellar said. “Fridays were my craziest days where I would spend one hour at lift, one hour catching for a pitcher, one hour of offense and one hour of defense. Yes, this seems like a lot, but at the end of the day I enjoyed it so much. I wish I could do it all now.”

While many spring sports didn’t get any opportunity to play this semester, the softball team did get to play in Florida during spring break. Many seniors across the country were barely able to step foot on a field due to weather and early travel restrictions, but CWRU’s team was able to play 10 games. Underclassmen, softball coaches and parents were even able to quickly put together a senior day—a traditional celebration of a sports team’s seniors.

Fourth-year softball outfielder Caitlin Smith would have played all four seasons at CWRU. Like her teammates, she is thankful for the chance, albeit brief, to play softball with the team in March. 

“I knew the time where I hung up my cleats would come eventually, but I never thought it would be so soon. This event really made me realize how much this sport means to me,” Smith said. “All of the losses, injuries, bad games, brutal practices, long days and hours of work never compare to the pain felt after playing your last game.”

But even though these ladies won’t get to play their last official season at CWRU, their involvement with their sports, and their teams, is anything but over.

Emily Herrmann has been a part of the CWRU track and field team for four years and has competed on a track team, hurdling, for 10 years, so she plans to continue lifting and running on trails and in triathlons. 

Hamilton plans to volunteer as an assistant coach for a Division III team close to where she will be working, at Stryker Orthopedics in New Jersey, and she also might join a group that offers pitching lessons to younger girls within her community. Soon-to-be Cleveland dweller, Cuellar plans to join the CWRU varsity softball coaching staff, and Smith hopes to find a local team to help coach, wherever she ends up. Nicole Carty, a fourth-year softball pitcher and first-baseman who has played the sport her whole career at CWRU, hopes to join a fast or slow pitch league someday.

To stay connected with their team and some alumni, softball players and their coaches have been meeting over Zoom every once in a while. The team has also had meetings that feature Director of Athletics Amy Backus and the Case Association of Student-Athletes. 

In general, the athletic department has been posting different features and highlighting past games on social media to keep the whole athletic community involved and connected, although Hamilton feels as though her role has already shifted from player to alumna. 

Not being able to win NCAA championships, or host or attend UAA meets or World Series, are opportunities these seniors will miss, but their memories and hopes for a future with CWRU athletics are plentiful. 

“I’m moving to Utah in September to work as a systems engineer for Northrop Grumman, so I can’t stay physically involved with CWRU athletics on campus,” Herrmann said. “That being said, I’m planning to watch track and cross country meets as much as possible. I’ll be back in Cleveland at least a couple times to visit, so I definitely plan on seeing the team when I am. I’ve also helped Coach [Eric] Schmuhl with some data analysis for standards this year, so perhaps I can continue to do so at a distance next year.”

Softball players always look forward to the annual alumni game, and this year’s seniors hope that 2020 will be the year this new group can redeem their last season by pulling an upset, beating the soon-to-be current team.

“To the underclassmen: Please do not take for granted the time you have with the sport,” Hamilton said. “It is tough being a student-athlete, and some days we wonder why we put our bodies through it, but you will understand its worth after you put on your uniform for the last time.”

Men’s varsity sports

Men’s tennis seniors include Zach Hennessey, Anthony Kanam and Henry Squire; baseball’s seniors include Scott Kutschke, Casey McConihe, Noah Mehrle, Sam Neal and Paul Slota; and men’s track and field seniors include Tim Andrews, Tyler Bushman, Andrew Gold, Andrew Green, Jonathan Haling, David Hall, Brian Holden, Michael Hradesky, Darius Inzar, Sam Jenkins, Grant McCarthy, Dominic Oddo, Karthik Ravichandran and Mitchell Webb.

Fourth-year outfielder Noah Mehrle would have played baseball all four seasons at CWRU, he has played the sport since the age of six, demonstrating the passion that most collegiate athletes have continued to have for their sport. 

“Baseball is everything to me. I live, think and breathe baseball. I’d spend at least an hour everyday in the offseason and a ton of time during the spring [working],” Mehrle said. “Playing a DIII sport is no joke.” 

Fourth-year track and field participant Dominic Oddo would have spent all four years on CWRU’s team, as well, as a multi-event athlete, focusing on distance running, jumps and hurdles.

“I’ve made a lot of friends through the sport. I find it to be a great way to bond with people and I find it to be my personal sanctuary,” Oddo said. “I spend pretty much my whole year doing track between preseason training, offseason training and being in season.”

Even though all these athletes won’t get to play their last official season at CWRU, their heavy involvement with sports doesn’t have to end anytime soon.

While Mehrle is interested in helping coach a high school or summer league baseball team, Oddo is an “adamant follower of pro track and field,” and considers joining the track and field team when he goes to graduate school next year at the University of New Mexico to pursue a PhD in Physics with a concentration in Astronomy. Even if he doesn’t, he plans to continue running, to keep his body in good shape.

No matter where the sports take these dedicated collegiate athletes, the memories their relationship with the sport has formed will stay with them, even if they won’t be able to help lead their teams to more UAA championships.

“One of my favorite memories was playing NYU at their stadium with Coney Island in the outfield,” Mehrle said. “On a warm spring day my junior year, I hit my first ever home run as a CWRU player. Both of my parents were there watching, too.” 

“My favorite memories involve UAA meets, including my best friend, Ananth Suresh, winning the triple jump competition last year in Emory on his last jump. It is something that will stick with me forever,” Oddo said. 

At the end of the day, though, one of the strongest reasons many players love their sport is because of their teammates, laughing and having fun with them. 

“I miss the people and … engaging with them at practice, and learning about them, and working and playing with them,” Oddo said. “I will be headed to another school next year, but, of course, I’ll want to stay in contact with people.”

This abrupt cancellation of everything was not the ending players wanted for their collegiate athletic careers, but Mehrle put the unfortunate situation into perspective when he said, “It has taught me to smile and enjoy everyday, because you never know when life is going to throw you a curveball.”