Ashley Soares was in the middle of Tennessee when she and her UMass Lowell teammates found out the 2020 softball season was coming to an end after the River Hawks had only played 16 of their 49 scheduled games. They had practice in Clarksville the day the NBA suspended play, then the Old Rochester Regional High School graduate and her UMass Lowell teammates were in the middle of a five-hour bus trip to Memphis when the NHL and MLB suspended theirs.
Individual NCAA conferences followed suit, canceling spring sports. Among early decision-makers were the Ivy and Patriot leagues, including UMass Lowell opponents. At that point, Soares knew more change was coming — in a year she had already had to make quite a few changes.
“Coming into this year, I knew it was going to be — not a challenge, but I had to learn how to adjust my whole schedule and everything,” Soares said. “You know, I have this sort of way of life and COVID happens and you have to change it all up again. Classes were going great, and then they turn into them online and you have to change your way of doing things.”
While the novel coronavirus threw an unexpected curve Soares’ way, the “way of life” she had come accustomed to in her freshman year was by no means a simple one. The life of a Division I athlete leaves little room for distractions between lifts, practice, games, classes, and homework. Yet, she fell in love with the lifestyle.
“It was great,” Soares said. “I met a lot of great people. It was so awesome to be waking up early every morning to got to lift, to practice with my teammates who I love spending time with. It was just great to wake up every day and do something that I love.”
Had UMass Lowell been able to continue the softball season, the America East Championship would have already been played. Soares and her teammates could be preparing for the Softball College World Series.
Instead, the 2019 Old Rochester graduate has to settle for practicing the sport she loves in her basement and in her yard, in addition to taking classes at home. Not to mention, Soares also has another responsibility while she’s home from school. She’s working for a grocery store in Wareham.
“It’s been awesome,” she said. “The staff is great, and we’re taking all the precautions to keep COVID away.”
Soares is now training to prepare for the 2021 spring season with her freshman season now well behind her thanks to the pandemic. With MLB and other sports taking steps toward commencing play without fans, the Old Rochester alum may finally get her chance to shine for UMass Lowell. In a time of so much unknown, one certainty is Soares will all the necessary adjustments in order to be ready for her opportunity.
By Nick Friar