Oxford Hills’ Kori Kahkonen congratulates Madison Day after scoring a run during the A North softball semifinal in Paris in 2019. Brewster Burns photo

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of stories about the effects of the cancellation of the spring sports season.

The Oxford Hills softball team was together on the bus, angry with themselves for what didn’t go right in a Class A North regional final loss to rival Skowhegan. 

Five minutes into the ride back to Paris from Colby College last June, the Vikings “all decided to work hard to get back there and win and go even further,” then-junior catcher Ashley Childs said. “We were motivated to go as far as possible in the playoff games. We wanted to win a state title as a team.” 

The Vikings were set up to potentially make a run to the state championship game this season, having done that two years ago in the middle of three straight trips to the Class A North final — facing Skowhegan each time. The team had five seniors coming back (Childs, Brooke Carson, Madison Day, Kori Kahkonen, Lauren Merrill) and were only graduating one bench player. 

“I think the outlook was to be in the state game,” Oxford Hills coach Cindy Goddard said. “That was the goal.” 

Goddard said she and assistant coach Dan Daniels started talking about the prospects of this season as soon as last year’s regional final was over. 

“Like, what are we going to do, what are we going to do differently,” Goddard recalled. 

No game plan could have prepared Goddard, who was set to coach the Vikings for a 32nd season, for what this year was going to bring: a cancellation caused by the coronavirus. 

Oxford Hills’ Lauren Merrill throws a pitch against Bangor in the A North softball semifinal in Paris in 2019. Brewster Burns photo

“It’s just kind of hard to even expect that something of this magnitude could happen, (that) you wouldn’t have a season,” Goddard said. “I mean, it hasn’t happened in my lifetime. So it’s just hard to, I think, grasp.” 

For Oxford Hills’ five seniors, last year’s regional loss at Colby College will be the final time they don a Vikings softball uniform. It will be their final act of careers that still can only be described as “decorated,” if not played out in full. 

“All of us seniors weren’t only looking forward to the season but we were excited for what the future held for our team,” said Merrill, who would have been the team’s ace for a fourth season. “We have been together playing since middle school, and this was our last chance to play all together. One last season wearing the same uniform.” 

This is the first spring Merrill can remember that won’t include softball. Whether it was attending her two older sisters’ games or playing herself, she has always been around the diamond during this time of the year. 

“(My sisters) set the bar high, both in high school and while they were at Husson. I feel this was my turn to see what I was made of, and if I could reach that bar or go higher,” Merrill said. “It’s like the final chapter of the high school book doesn’t get to be written.” 

Oxford Hills’ Madison Day throws to first base during the Class A North softball semifinal in Paris in 2019. Brewster Burns photo

“Sometimes I think I’d rather be hurt and watch and support my team play than just have no season at all,” she added. “I know I can’t do anything about this virus but it’s still a disappointment, to say the least. Softball has given me so much. With both the wins and losses, I’ve always taken something away to make me better, or learned how to overcome something that was really hard.” 

That most recent loss to Skowhegan was supposed to have just been another lesson learned for Merrill and her classmates, not the final exam. 

“After last year’s loss in the regional final we all agreed that we wouldn’t let that happen again this year. We didn’t like it at all,” Merrill said. “Everyone knows the rivalry between Skowhegan and Oxford Hills over the past several years. That loss was our driving force and helped us to grow mentally. This year, I feel like we all were focused on becoming better friends off the field, which made us more supportive of each other on the field. We had become one team with one goal.” 

“Looking back on last year and how far we came made me realize how much better we could have been this year. We are always improving,” Childs said. “I think that if we got the chance to do the rest of the season now, we would put everything we have into winning a state title.

Childs added: “I think what was going to make this year’s team special was the bond that all of us have together. Most of our team consists of people we all have been playing with for years. Many of us play travel softball together in the winter or against one another, and it is a bond that we can never forget.” 

Oxford Hills first baseman Brooke Carson snags a sharply hit line drive for the last out of a 2019 game against Lewiston in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Childs said nine of the team’s players had been in the dome all winter long, with practices starting in November, and games beginning in February before the pandemic brought everything to a halt. 

When the start of the season was delayed before pitchers-and-catchers practice even began, Merrill said the team got a text from Goddard telling them to keep preparing for a season. Childs said once school stayed closed for a couple weeks she knew the chances of a season were slim, but she kept her head up and hoped she wouldn’t hear the bad news about the season. 

Then came the news that there wouldn’t be a season. 

“I wasn’t shocked when I heard the news, but I definitely felt my heart drop. I just remember coming back from a run and checking my phone to see a text from coach Goddard and just being heartbroken,” Childs said. “It never really hit me until her text came through of just how much this season was going to mean to me.” 

“As soon as I heard that, I was in denial,” Merrill said. “I kind of still am.” 

The sadness, according to Merrill, is less about the loss of games and more about the players not being able to get together. 

They’ve found a way to connect, using a group chat to constantly share pictures and videos of past softball memories.

“It reminds us not to take anything for granted,” Merrill said. 

Goddard also has felt a void, though she likened it to being on summer vacation. 

Hampden first baseman Bailey Anderson reaches for an errant throw as Oxford Hills’ Ashley Childs reaches first base during a 2019 Class A North softball quarterfinal in Paris. Brewster Burns

“I just saw (Childs the other day) at the grocery store, which I haven’t really seen many of those kids,” Goddard said. “Like, I’m not really even looking forward to the day that I have to see Lauren Merrill face to face. I think that will be hard for me. Right now I’m kind of removed. I mean, I have conversations with them, I say, ‘Happy Easter,’ and I have conversations like, ‘I’m sorry about the season,’ but I haven’t been together with all of them. I think that would be a really emotional time.” 

“You know, I want to be on that field one more time with those kids. Like they are great kids,” Goddard added. “You just feel that pain for them that they didn’t get that opportunity. I think that’s the hard part, is just that (lack of) closure.” 


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