By Kayla Anderson
When the Reed High School softball team went down to Las Vegas to play in the Bishop Gorman softball tournament on March 12-14, they had no idea that it would be their last games of the season.
For Raiders sisters Cailyn and Danyelle Leone, it was likely the last game they’d ever play together.
Deciding to play in Vegas instead of Sacramento because of the forecasted poor weather, the team arrived in Vegas to find that other teams were dropping out. Reed was able to play a few games resulting in four wins and two losses before the tournament was called.
“Everyone was scrambling, figuring out who could play. A storm was rolling in and it started raining, but we were able to get one game under our belt,” says Shannon Leone, the mother of two Reed softball players. By that time, Clark County schools had pulled out of the tournament as well, so they played Lehi High School from Utah and won 11-3. They all went home that weekend, which was a precursor to spring break, wondering if they would ever play softball together again.
That following week the softball team found out that their next big tournament was canceled, and that their season was on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. The NIAA eventually put an end to the hopes of Nevada athletes to play again this year in late April when they had to cancel the rest of the sports season.
“That week of March 16 we got word that the Reed tournament was off. We were thinking, how bad is this going to get? And the girls were wondering, are we going to walk off this field for the last time?” Leone ponders. “There were a lot of tears and worries about the future,” she adds.
“They started the season with a lot of high hopes. Reed High School had a strong team this year, they were all meshing well and there was a lot of camaraderie,” Leone says.
“And we’re just patiently waiting to see if we can play travel ball (a step-up from recreational teams in which players are recruited),” she says about going into the summer season.
For high school senior Cailyn Leone, the family was told that both of her tournaments in May were canceled but the silver lining is that she has already been accepted and will get to start next season playing at an upper level at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.
Cailyn already received a partial scholarship to attend there, along with a WUE (Western Undergrad Exchange) and the locally awarded Joshua L. Anderson Memorial Foundation scholarship which all greatly help the Leone family out with tuition and school costs.
Shannon adds that colleges extended the softball season to include a fifth year, giving graduating seniors an opportunity to come back and play for their team. But with seven seniors on the Southern Oregon University team, Shannon wondered if there would be room for Cailyn.
“Fortunately, coach Mike Mayben has been talking with the incoming freshmen, they all meet once a week over Zoom,” says Shannon. College coaches are helping to ease the pain as much as possible for their softball players’ transition, but many feel that their senior year got robbed.
“It’s been extremely hard; I didn’t know I could miss a sport so much. I think we had a good chance of being the top team in the region. It would’ve been nice to find out what could’ve happened if we finished the season,” Shannon says. “It’s been fun to watch these girls grow up from Little League to what they are now. In the senior year to have that all yanked from you…it’s hard,” she adds.
However, while Cailyn’s future softball career is relatively safe, it’s her sister Danyelle who may struggle more. As a sophomore going into her junior year, this is the time of the “recruitable athlete”, as Reed High softball coach Jon Wunder calls it.
“There’s less opportunities to be seen by a coach and juniors tend to be on the radar more (than other classes). That means athletes have to find alternative ways, like with videos, to get the coach’s attention,” Wunder says. He adds that Danyelle does have an advantage in being noticed by recruiters since she’s in a high-profile position as pitcher, but she will likely still be impacted.
Shannon says that Danyelle’s next tournaments that were supposed to be held in Vegas and Huntington Beach have been canceled, and that they are on pins and needles waiting to see what happens in June.
“We’re going into a big (college) recruiting year and things will be a lot different for Danyelle,” Shannon says. She’s hopeful that schools will still host recruiting or elite softball camps, as they allow students to get 1-on-1 time with the coaches and other currently enrolled students.
As Wunder reflects back on the Reed softball team’s last tournament, he says, “We had a successful tournament with four wines and two losses. We came back feeling pretty good. But then we started seeing things get canceled and wondering what was going on. When they canceled the NCAA tournament it was like, whoa, this is serious.” Wunder adds that it made him realize what kinds of things we take for granted.
When asked what lies ahead for graduating softball players, Wunder says, “Some will get to have their summer season, but it depends on where they play. Organizations that typically hold softball tournaments will be postponed. When they are rescheduled, it looks like it will be a shortened summer,” he says.
Since the current order suggests that there can only be gatherings of 10 people or less, Wunder foresees several more phases of Nevada’s reopening before softball tournaments (that draw in hundreds of spectators) can start back up again.
Wunder has not personally seen any fallout with scholarships yet except with Reed senior Hilana Ely. She was awarded a scholarship to Concordia University in Portland (a Division II school), but after 115 years of being in operation the school recently announced that it will close after the Spring 2020 semester. Smaller colleges are struggling as enrollment numbers drop, causing schools like Concordia to incur mounting debt.
“She will not be able to play as much or do travel ball this summer, so she’s left scrambling to find another school. I believe she settled on Southwest Oregon Community College to play another year. She’s kind of going sight unseen, and they found out about her through word-of-mouth. Fortunately, they are providing some kind of financial assistance. It’s not ideal, but it gives her some opportunity,” he says.
In the meantime, Cailyn tries to remain optimistic about starting school next fall at Southern Oregon University.
“It’s hard not getting to play with my sister this final year (she says of Danyelle who joined the softball varsity team as a freshman) but I’m looking forward to going up to Southern Oregon and practicing again,” Cailyn says. During the shelter-in-place order, she adds that it’s been a big help getting to play softball with Danyelle on a regular basis and have someone to talk to while being stuck inside.
In her final weeks of school, she only has three actual classes and that all of her schoolwork is assigned on Zoom.
“We’re doing everything online, it’s not that hard. I’m looking forward to summer break and playing travel ball,” she says.
The Reed High School 2019-2020 school year concludes on June 6. Her graduation would’ve been held on June 13, but it was canceled.
Cutline 1: Reed High School softball players Danyelle and Cailyn Leone were set to play their last high school season together before the cancellation of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Cutline 2: Reed coach Jon Wunder gave the girls their first Raiders swag when they were just 10 and 12 years old. Their mother said they couldn’t wait to be Reed Raiders.
By Kayla Anderson