After Two Years, Harvard Players Ecstatic To Play Again
For the past two years, Harvard's junior catcher Megan Welsh and senior pitcher Grace Krantz have waited to get back on the softball field.
That moment finally becomes a reality on February 25, when Harvard plays Rhode Island to begin its 2022 season. It will be the first time the Crimson have been on the diamond for a regular-season game since March 1, 2020.
After the long layoff during to the COVID-19 pandemic, you can guarantee the two Harvard players have a renewed sense of appreciation for the game and their opportunity to play it.
"I think this time off has definitely taught a whole new sense of gratitude for our overall college experience," Welsh said. "Nearly every day when we were apart from each other, we all just wished we could be back on campus and playing together."
The Ivy League was the first conference to shut down spring sports when the pandemic began nearly two years ago. Welsh recalls having an unsettling feeling while practicing knowing the season could get canceled in a matter of days.
Krantz said after the team's spring break trip to California was canceled, her teammates joked about the season getting canceled. Then, it became a reality.
While the team was scared and upset about their canceled season, Krantz recalls having a memorable dinner with her teammates right before they all departed to quarantine.
"We all pushed a bunch of tables together, and we did a cheer that we always do together," Krantz said. "Which was probably super annoying for everyone else, but we were having a good time."
The following day, the team held a senior day to honor its graduating class.
"It was kind of like a fake captain's practice where we all just went out in the field in our sweatpants and jerseys and made posters for them," she said. "I think, looking back, those were cherished times, but they were obviously rooted in pain."
While other teams were preparing for the 2021 season, Krantz tells Softball America that her team had a feeling there would be no season in the Ivy League. She was frustrated watching other teams play while she was at home.
During that time, she and her teammates had to figure out if they would take a gap year and work, or if they would continue with their education.
Welsh decided to take a gap year and prepare for life after graduation. However, watching the NCAA Tournament games reminded her that she's still a softball player.
"It was fun to watch so many games because I feel like when we're playing, you're not able to watch everyone's game because you're so busy," she said. "I got to watch a lot of travel ball friends and learn from them and learn from the game."
During the 2019 season, the two players helped Harvard win its first outright championship since 2012 and appear in the NCAA Regionals at the University of Arizona.
Although the 2022 team is far different from Harvard's squad two years ago, having a season before the pandemic and capturing an Ivy League title will certainly help them throughout this spring.
The conference's quality of play has grown primarily due to the coaches pushing to make it more competitive with the rest of Division I, with recruiting at the forefront of that growth.
And for Krantz, watching other Harvard teams succeed has helped her see what can be possible for her squad as well.
"I have roommates on field hockey and they made it to the Final Four this year," Krantz said. "Seeing hockey doing really well, and squash always kills it, and fencing, (we are) trying to come up to that caliber of play. We just want to leave the program better than we found it."
The program's first Ivy League game since 2019 will be against Yale on March 19.
While the ultimate goal is to become champions of the Ivy League once again, the two players admit that whichever team wins this year's championship will be special given the time away from the field over the last two years.
"I don't want any regrets this last season," Krantz said. "I don't want to think like, 'oh, I held myself back here, or I didn't do this exactly as hard as I would've wanted to'… This is the last one. It's going to be the best one, and we're all just really excited."