Reagan Hathaway and Kaitlyn Slack were right next to each other when they got the news.
The Texas softball seniors had the day off on March 12 after coronavirus concerns caused the cancellation of a weekend trip to Alabama. Then, sitting on the couch together in Slack’s house in Austin, their athletic careers came crashing down.
“We saw the Big 12 tweet, and I kind of just froze for a little bit,” Slack said in a phone interview. “And I looked at Reagan and I said, ‘The Big 12 just just suspended play (until March 24).’ And she was like, ‘You're kidding, right?’ I said no. And I showed her the tweet, … and I kind of just started crying a little bit. And I was like, ‘I'm never gonna play softball again.’”
Although the Big 12 had only suspended play for several weeks, the writing was on the walls. Just hours later, the NCAA canceled all remaining winter and spring championships. Even though there was a glimmer of hope of salvaging the regular season, Slack and Hathaway knew it was likely their days as softball players had come to an abrupt end.
The coming day would confirm their fears. The Big 12 canceled all remaining athletic competitions. The team gathered for a final meeting at Red and Charline McCombs Field, where Texas Athletics Director Chris Del Conte advised everyone to head home to their families. In an instant, a more-than-promising season for Texas softball was over.
“We were all just sitting there, social distanced, quiet and crying,” senior outfielder Tuesday DerMargosian said in a phone interview.
Even though the preceding events made the outlook grim, the finality of it all came as a shock to the team.
“I just really couldn't believe it,” Hathaway said. ”I mean, you can't predict anything like it, so it was just kind of hard to feel emotions about it because it was just so shocking and wild that everything went down like that.”
The Longhorns were just getting rolling in the midst of what appeared to be a special year for a group Hathaway described as “one of the best Texas teams ever.” Texas was on a six-game win streak and two weeks removed from defeating the country’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the same weekend. Outside expectations were high, but aspirations within were even higher.
“Oh, we expected to go to the (Women’s College) World Series at least,” Slack said. “We knew at the beginning of the season that (we were) going to be really good, but we didn't know how good we were going to be until we got up against UCLA or Washington. And then when we proved our worth, we kind of just were like, ‘Alright, let's do this. We're going to get on a roll. We're going to Oklahoma City this year.’”
Instead, after the season finale 7-0 win over New Mexico, Texas’ six seniors were left with a choice stemming from an impromptu NCAA regulation that allowed for an optional year of eligibility extension. This regulation meant the seniors could have one more year of a career at Texas cut short in its final act, or move on from the team after four-plus years in Austin.
Seniors Shannon Rhodes, Kaitlyn Washington and Miranda Elish chose the former — Hathaway, Slack and DerMargosian, the latter.
Slack and Hathaway, previously roommates at Texas, already had housing prepared together for after the spring semester in Lawrence, Kansas, 30 miles west of Hathaway’s hometown of Olathe. Slack will start a career in coaching, working as a graduate assistant at the University of Kansas. Hathaway, a biology major, is searching for a job at a lab in the area. Slack said it was “the biggest decision of her life,” but both knew that the timing was right to move on.
“I've had two seasons cut short,” said Hathaway, who battled through a major knee injury earlier in her career. “So I guess I was just getting a sign that was my time. I definitely didn’t want it to be. It sucked, and it wasn't a good note to end it on, but I have a lot of really fond memories and a lot of good friends.”
While Hathaway and Slack have decided their playing days are over, DerMargosian isn’t closing that door yet. She has entered the transfer portal, as the year of eligibility allows her to pursue a one-year master’s degree while on a softball scholarship, something she couldn’t do at UT. Now she’s in the process of looking for her next school and team.
“It's kind of been a whirlwind of emotions, but it's definitely been something that has really changed my whole life and career because I didn't even think I would be getting my master’s,” DerMargosian said. “Now, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
All three agree that the 2020 Texas softball team was special — the chemistry was unmatched. But just as Texas softball will embark on a new journey next year to capture that coveted World Series appearance, Hathaway, Slack and DerMargosian will enter their next chapter.
But you can be sure that their days in Austin won’t soon be forgotten.
“The girls at Texas, we're all one little family, and I’ll never lose touch with them,” Slack said. “(I’ll miss) the pride that comes with being a Texas Longhorn. There's nowhere else like (it).”