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Hopes remain high for the Tigers despite fallout from COVID-cancelled 2020 season.

PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Tigard freshman Makenna Reid gets ready to fire in a pitch for the Tigers in their 5-4 win at Tualatin on Monday., Times - Sports The Tigers move into the top spot in the Three Rivers League standings with the 5-4 win Tigard tips Tualatin in 10-inning thrillerWith a shortened season of fall sports now winding down, and traditional spring sports warming up, Tigard head softball coach Pete Kostel is ready to take to the diamond with a Tigers squad that hasn't been on the field for nearly two years.

"I'm excited," Kostel said. "We graduated four key seniors, but we have some good young kids, and it's going to be great to get back out there."

One of those seniors was all-league catcher Emily Paulson, who is now attending and playing softball at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

The now-college freshman said that for quite some time, it was difficult to think about everything her class lost last spring — when the spring sports season was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic and school closures — but with time, Paulson has learned to accept what was and move forward with the tools it provided her.

"I think that at first, we (seniors) were all sad and a little mad at the world," Paulson said, "But I think we all realized, and me especially, that it doesn't help to be angry, and that in addition to cherishing what we had, we needed to understand that there were bigger and better things coming."

PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Tigard junior catcher Emily Paulson (left) looks to tag out Tualatin senior Andrea Gomez on a close play at the plate during a game in 2019. Softball was cancelled prior to last season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.For Paulson, that's been her last seven months at Western Washington. She chose the school for the learning environment, the familiar natural setting and the coaching staff, which she said really stresses culture in regards to building a winning program.

The freshman catcher has had limited playing time, but she's enjoyed her time on the diamond, too, where she's still trying to shake off some of the rust.

Softball players, like many high school athletes now, compete throughout the year for both their schools and club teams in the summer. Having missed last school season, then playing in but one club tournament this past summer, Paulson said it was a little different getting back onto the diamond after such an extended break from the action.

"I definitely felt more nervous than I think I would've if I'd had a whole club season coming into college," she said. "Everyone here was super-understanding of the fact that we hadn't been able to practice much, and they really let us ease into things, but it was different and almost weird not doing softball 24/7 for the first time in a while."

Paulson's good friend and former teammate, senior Sophia vanderSommen, also spoke to the different aspects to resuming play this spring. PMG PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Tigard High School sophomore Sophia vanderSommen gets ready to fire in a pitch during during a game in 2019. Softball was cancelled prior to last season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.VanderSommen, a varsity player since her freshman year, said it's going to be a little difficult this season, because this year's team will lack some of the camaraderie of years past due to missing a year's worth of experience.

The pitcher and infielder for the Tigers was close with the departed seniors, but she said in addition to them being gone, she and her new senior teammates missed a season's worth of experience building relationships with the underclassmen.

"It's tough because this last year, with social distancing and no school, I really haven't gotten a chance to talk to a lot of our younger players," vanderSommen said. "With the few things we've done, the younger kids are really quiet. Well, this is supposed to be fun, so I'm hoping that as we get more into things we can break the ice and everyone can get situated."

VanderSommen and Kostel both feel good about this year's team from a talent standpoint. They lost some key contributors, but they return sophomore utility player Karen Spadafora, who will be catching this season, and a slate of juniors, including standout pitcher Makenna Reid, third baseman Kani Korok, and players like Sera Reilly and Kaylin and Kali Kisor. They'll also get back a star from their 2018 spring season: senior Katie Ragalado, who missed her sophomore year due to injury and last year due to the pandemic.

Kostel said there's obviously some mystery to how things will look because of the extended layoff, but that their approach has always been and will remain the same despite it.

COURTESY PHOTO - Emily Paulson (left) and Sophia vanderSommen celebrate a play during a game in 2019. Paulson missed her senior season due to COVID and is playing softball at Western Washington University, while vanderSommen will be a senior on this year's Tigard team."Our goals will always be the same, which are to develop these kids into better people and better softball players," Kostel said. "There are no championships this year, but this is a chance for kids to grow and really just get out and have a good time. They haven't gotten to do that much in the last year."

Paulson agrees, and with what she and her three fellow seniors experienced — or didn't — last year, she's just happy this year's team will have some closure.

"I always tell people that I would give anything to have a last season in high school back, and I am super-happy for all the seniors and just everyone who gets to play," Paulson said. "For a lot of them, this is their last time ever playing sports, so I'm glad they're getting that last chance to do something they love."

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