Hunt, Puppolo, Murphy reflect back on canceled softball seasons
The opportunity to get another year of college eligibility has certainly piqued the interest of spring sport athletes across the length and breadth of the NCAA. For one of many Berkshire County college softball players, the answer is definitely yes.
"I am coming back, yeah," said Allie Hunt, who had her senior softball season at RPI canceled after 12 games.
Hunt, who had helped the Engineers get off to a 12-0 start when the spring season ended in March, also said that it doesn't change much of her education plans to play another year.
"I started my Master's this past spring and it's a year-and-a-half program," she said, "so I have another year. It was a huge relief off of my shoulders" to get the extra year.
Hunt is one of many Berkshire County athletes playing college softball. Some of her former rivals, like former Hoosac Valley pitcher Kali Puppolo and another former General in Julia Murphy, still had eligibility left, and have time to decide if they'll play the extra year.
Hunt, a Pittsfield High School graduate, is going for her Master's in Business Administration. She has been a three-time Liberty League All-Academic selection and was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Division III team for District 3. Hunt was joined on the team by Engineers' right fielder Veronica DeStefano.
Hunt seemed poised to have an All-Liberty League kind of season for the Engineers. She was second on the team with a .472 batting average, and was tied for the team lead with two home runs. She led RPI with 17 runs batted in, had stolen four bases in five attempts and in 36 at-bats, had walked four times and struck out only once.
"I know that a lot of the classes, at least for my Master's, are in the afternoon, so I'll really have to work around that," she said. "It's kind of nice having this semester while doing it. I know we got 12 games in, and it was a nice ease into it."
RPI had won 12 games on its Florida trip, as the Engineers had been looking to get back to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time since 2017.
"I know that a lot of my teammates were bawling when they first heard that ... the season was going to be over. That was a feeling across the board," Hunt said. "Once we found out that there [would be] another year of eligibility, everybody started to scramble to try and figure out if they could do their Master's as well.
"It was a huge relief."
Puppolo had entered Division I Manhattan after two stellar seasons at Herkimer County (N.Y.) Community College, where she was a two-time National Fastpitch Coaches Association and National Junior College Athletic Association first-team All-American.
"I think we all kind of felt [the stoppage] the same," Puppolo said. "We've all been playing the game for so long and it just stopped. What do I do now? You've been doing this your whole life, and it just comes — not to an end — but you can't play games any more and it's not the same."
What made this particularly tough for the former Hoosac Hurricane is that she was coming off surgery for a nerve issue in her pitching arm. The surgery went very well, and she has fully recovered. But the pitcher said she was looking to give her arm more than a cursory test drive.
"Now I can feel all of my fingers again and throw the ball how I know I can," she said.
One of four pitchers on the roster for Manhattan coach Tom Paradis, the quartet had pretty much had split the first 12 games equally.
"It was definitely a change from high school and from junior college," Puppolo said. "I think I got the hang of it. I didn't hit my stride yet, but I feel like I was adjusting well. It was fun."
Puppolo made six appearances for the Jaspers, who went 6-6 before the pandemic ended the season. Manhattan was 3-3 in Florida and won three of its last four games after returning to the Northeast.
For her part, Puppolo was 1-2 with two starts. She had a 2.68 earned-run average, second on the team, and pitched in 15 2/3 innings.
Puppolo picked up her first Division I victory in a 4-1 win over Morgan State. She threw four innings, gave up a run on six hits.
"I had that arm surgery in November, so coming out and getting that first win was kind of like a relief," she said. "It was fun, and it was a relief more than anything."
Her "worst" outing came in a 10-5 loss to Hartford. She did not get out of the fourth inning and gave up six runs. Only one of those runs was earned.
But back to the win over Morgan State. Puppolo got double plays to get out of pickles in the first and fourth innings. In the fourth, Puppolo loaded the bases with no outs. The run scored on a ground out and then she got a double play to end the threat and the inning.
Puppolo has given some thought to the NCAA giving the spring semester back to athletes, is ready to use it.
"I definitely want to take advantage of the extra year. I want to play as much softball for as long as I can," said Puppolo. "I could start my graduate school. Especially at Manhattan where they have good programs that I could get into."
Murphy, who pitched at Pittsfield and then at Suffield (Conn.) Academy, had appeared in five games for the 6-11 Providence College softball team. The Friars were due to play Penn State and Army on March 13, when the cancellation decisions were made.
"We were in Florida on our spring training trip and had kind of finished the first half of the trip, when we got the news that our season would be canceled," Murphy said. "We played a doubleheader on Tuesday of that week, and were planning to play again on Friday, when our season got canceled on Thursday. It was definitely like a whirlwind, because we had kind of been feeling like some conferences were canceling and then the NCAA canceled the softball championship before we had heard anything from [the Big East]. When we did get the news, it wasn't completely unexpected, but not something we could ever imagine happening."
For Murphy and many of her teammates, there was still some adjusting to a coach who was only in her second season at the helm at Providence.
"We were all just really looking forward to this year because we had such a great year last year with the new staff," Murphy said. "We were kind of looking to build on the momentum. For all of us who had been with the old staff and the new staff, we were really excited to settle into a groove. Obviously, it was cut short."
Jill Karowski was in her second season as Providence's head coach, and she had guided the Friars to a 30-22 record in 2019. It was Providence's first winning record since going 29-19-1 back in 2006.
Murphy had a quality sophomore year under the new coach. She appeared in 12 games and had a 2.22 earned-run average in 28 1/3 innings.
In five games in 2020, the right-hander had a 4.45 ERA, but recorded her first win on March 6.
Murphy came on in relief against Florida A&M and pitched 2 1/3 innings of shutout softball in a 7-5 win. She got the win when Tiara Wren hit a two-out, 3-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
While Murphy will be pitching again when the Friars take the field next winter, the rising senior said she is thinking about that extra season, but is not sure she'll use it.
"I think it's a really awesome option to have for a lot of people. I think, for me, making any decision is a little premature right now because I do have all of next year," Murphy said. "I really have to see which way my career, and my grad school plans might take me before I do make a decision.
"I'm going to keep my options open, and if all of the stars align in the right direction, I'm definitely thinking about it."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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