Hannah Dukeman is getting a chance to play softball despite COVID-19 stealing her senior season at St. Joseph-Ogden High School.
“I had talked to the other senior softball players before all of this began and we were all thinking that something like our season couldn’t be canceled because it just didn’t seem fathomable,” Dukeman said. “Then, when it happened, we saw the reality of things being canceled, and we were really surprised.”
Dukeman is currently playing with The Mattoon Premier travel team. They are scheduled to play in Tennessee, Mississippi and South Carolina this summer, but Dukeman knows that those plans could change at any moment.
“Our coach has been very straightforward with us on what could happen, and my dad and I have talked as well about what could happen if those tournaments are canceled,” she said. “But, right now, we are planning on playing them as they are scheduled.”
Dukeman is grateful to get the chance to play softball again after a wrist injury prevented her from playing during the majority of her senior year of girls’ basketball.
Dukeman said that perspective helped her deal with the softball season being canceled before SJO could play a single game. Dukeman was one of four seniors on this year’s team, along with Bailey Dowling, Zoey Witruk and Lindsey Aden.
“I had been out of action for so long that it seemed normal for me to not play this year for softball, but I do think that the other girls took it a little harder since that was their only sport,” she said. “I at least had the small window of basketball to look back on, including playing on senior night.”
Dukeman played through her injury last softball season. She also withstood the pain of the injury during her travel season between her junior and senior years, but soon the pain was strong enough that Dukeman knew she had to go to the doctor. Soon after she had surgery.
“Once I knew that my basketball season was all but over, I was heartbroken and wanted to get just a little bit of mobility to be able to dribble,” she said.
The surgery kept her on the bench most of the season but she still ran with the team and worked to motivate them.
“When the cast came off, I was bound and determined to try and come back at least for a little bit,” Dukeman said.
Larry Sparks, who coached Dukeman through middle school and during her junior year on the softball diamond at SJO, had nothing but praise to say about Dukeman and her willingness to come back and contribute.
“For her to have the wrist surgery and to put herself into a position to be in our opening day lineup is nothing but incredible,” he said. “Let alone, come back quick enough to help the girls’ basketball team by postseason while not at 100 percent shows the true component of her skills as a leader both on and off the field.”
Dukeman will be taking her softball game to the next level at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and while she doesn’t know quite how things will look once the fall semester arrives, she does know that with the pandemic giving collegiate seniors an opportunity to return for an extra year, the chance at immediate playing time will be a bit more difficult come 2021.
“All of the seniors decided to come back for another year, and that will significantly make it more difficult for playing time next season,” Dukeman said. “With a travel roster of only 20 girls, there are currently 32 on the team, so it makes it that much tougher to crack that roster in the spring.”
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