Cardinals Softball Returns to Excellence
Every North Central team has high standards, but few hold themselves to a level comparable to that of Cardinals Softball, who this year were looking for their thirty-fourth consecutive winning season. However, winning on it’s own isn’t enough and this year presented a unique opportunity. It was the first full season for head coach Venus Taylor, and the final chance for the team’s seniors to qualify for regionals, with the program last having done so in 2015.
“Once I had gotten here after about a month or so I started to look at the talent level and thought ‘we really have something here’,” said Taylor, who was hired mid-way through the 2021 season. “What you learn along the way is you have some really strong senior leadership and that has been a big part of our success this year, it’s the core of our group. And we also have some very young talented players that stepped in and kind of helped us do big things early on.”
“I think it started probably one of our first conference games,” reflected senior catcher Jaime Smith on the team realizing their potential. “We played Millikin right at the beginning and to sweep them off the bat after dropping how many games last year to them was a big morale boost for everyone, a good start to the season.”
Conference and Regional Success
The momentum gained from those early Millikin victories only continue to build, as the Cardinals finished the regular season with a record of 27-9. In the CCIW tournament, they beat both Carroll and Millikin again 1-0 to reach the championship game against Illinois Wesleyan. The Titans claimed the title, but North Central’s resume was strong enough to be the final team selected to the NCAA Tournament and receive a regional berth.
“It meant a lot to us,” said pitcher Gianna Corban. “We’ve been having a good season so far, we’ve had the same goals all four years and as seniors it means a lot and yeah I’m just happy that we could do it.”
“It was a bit stressful because we were the last at-large bid that they announced,” said Smith. “So you’re sitting there like ‘oh no, this is it.’ But it was really great experience to finally be able to [know] it’s not over yet, especially for the seniors it’s nice to have another shot at it.”
“At first it was cheers and then it was tears,” Taylor said. “It was a little bit all over the board, a lot of hugs. It was almost like everyone holding their breath hoping we’d get it, because you don’t know. And then when it’s finally said out loud it’s a relief and overwhelming mixture of emotions. We’re really excited and we know we belong and I really do feel this team can go as far as they want to go.”
Once again the Cardinals reached a championship game after wins over Penn State Behred and the University of Wisconsin – Eau Clare. Unfortunately, once again it wasn’t to be as Trine University advanced to the next round. But the team’s seniors, led by 1st Team All CCIW selections Corban and Smith, still accomplished their goals: returning Cardinals softball to where they feel it belongs and hopefully setting a new standard for their younger teammates to carry forward into the future.
“I think North Central always has a strong, successful tradition,” said Taylor. “However, I think that these seniors have been a key in leaving their mark and putting us on the map at a different level. I think it will helps us with recruiting going forward. They will be had to replace but we’ll do everything we can to stay in a good place.”
“I think I’ll remember the friendships the most,” Corban said of her Cardinals softball career. “I’ll be friends with these girls for a long time and I think that’s what means the most. Yeah, we can break records or whatever but we’re making friends and building relationships along the way.”