Coming off its best season in quite some time, there has been plenty of excitement surrounding the Hudson softball team this spring.
And then the Explorers got an unexpected bomb dropped on them.
Due to a deadly respiratory tract infection known as the coronavirus, the spring season has been suspended indefinitely.
For Olivia Stefanoni, the situation has been nothing short of heartbreaking. That’s because Stefanoni and her teammates believe 2020 could be something special once things turn back to normal.
"It’s very frustrating," she said. "We have a lot of potential to go far. I hope it doesn’t get cancelled."
Whether the season happens is anyone’s guess. Either way, Stefanoni’s softball career will continue regardless of the grim circumstances.
The left-handed senior pitcher/first baseman recently signed a national letter of intent to continue her academic and softball careers at the University of Akron, a public research university that makes its home in the Mid-American Conference. Stefanoni plans to major in pre-law or biomedical sciences.
"It was pretty much Akron the whole way," Stefanoni said. "Some of my teammates on my travel team are going to play there and I had a good connection with the coaches. It just felt right. I loved the campus."
Stefanoni, a four-year varsity player, really came into her own last spring. She finished 9-2 in the pitcher’s circle with a 1.93 earned run average. Stefanoni also struck out 73 batters while issuing just 29 walks in 79 ? innings.
At the plate, Stefanoni batted .325 with 27 hits, 19 RBIs, 12 runs scored, seven doubles and a home run.
Thanks to Stefanoni’s massive production, the Explorers finished 20-4 in 2019 and reached their first district final since 2011. Hudson also shared the Suburban League National Conference championship with Wadsworth and Brecksville-Broadview Heights.
"Olivia has been very solid for us," Explorers head coach Jeff Kurtz said. "The last couple of years, she has kind of figured it out.
"As a junior, she really developed into more of a pitcher than a thrower. She had a much better understanding of situational pitching and what our game plan was in terms of setting up hitters."
The Zips, who are led by first-year head coach Meaggan Pettipiece, weren’t nearly as successful as Stefanoni’s soon-to-be alma mater was last year.
Akron finished 13-31-2 overall, which included a 3-18 mark in the MAC. That didn’t deter Stefanoni, though. Like her current high school team, Stefanoni believes the Zips are capable of great things down the road.
"I really liked the players," she said. "They had an overnight dinner with all of the recruits. Every girl loves the new coaches. They’re trying to rebuild the whole program."
Stefanoni knows a thing or two about rebuilding. The Explorers finished 11-12 in 2018 after going 9-15 the previous year.
These days, Hudson is on just about everyone’s radar, thanks to its success in 2019. And if the season does take place, the Explorers could have a chance to play some very significant games in June.
"I love playing at Hudson," Stefanoni said. "All the girls are pretty close. We’re going to put in the work to make it as far as we possibly can. I have so much faith in the girls. We’re expecting big things this year."
Stefanoni’s fondness for softball extends beyond the spring. She has played travel ball throughout her life and has been a member of the Hudson Diamonds Fastpitch organization.
Besides Explorers head coach Jeff Kurtz, Stefanoni credits coaches Curtis Barker, Ed Beavers, Julie Boyes and Tracee McCoy for her development.
"She has made significant changes in her motion," Kurtz said. "She has made some personal adjustments to her pitching form and it’s starting to show. She has added a few more miles per hour to her fastball."
Stefanoni isn’t known for being an introvert when she steps on the field. If you’ve been around the free-spirited left-hander, it’s a good bet you’ll have a smile on your face.
"Olivia is a great kid," Kurtz said. "She has a sense of humor. She comes to practice and gets after it every day. She’s well-liked by her teammates."
Stefanoni hopes she finds herself in the circle at least a few more times while wearing navy blue and white colors. After that, she will get acclimated to a place that could be considered her second home in the near future.
That would be the Lee R. Jackson Athletic Complex.
"I feel that I’ve really put in the work to give it my best shot," Stefanoni said. "I think I can make a difference."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_Gannett.