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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

I knew something wasn’t right.

I knew it when Coach Walton came into the lounge to tell us we were having a team meeting before practice.

That wasn’t on the schedule for today.

It was there, during the unplanned team meeting before practice, where he told us that our weekend series against then-No. 24 Baylor was canceled and so were the rest of our games for the next couple of weeks because of the global coronavirus pandemic. He didn’t know when we’d be able to start back up again.

No one did.

Upset and unsure what to do, a lot of us decided to go hang out and talk about it.

I remember getting there and someone said, “The season’s over.”

I was so confused.

“What are you talking about,” I said.

“We can’t go to the World Series.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The NCAA canceled everything.”

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Everyone just sat there. Nobody knew what to say. There was nothing to say.

The NCAA announced it in a tweet. In one fell swoop, a paragraph ended thousands of college athletic careers — including my own. None of the coaches had any idea. We all found out at the same time.

Was this real?

Of course, we knew it was. It seemed like the next logical step given what we had been told earlier that day. But it didn’t feel real. It felt like a gut-wrenching nightmare.

Instead of a pinch, hurried buzzings from my phone jolted me awake. Dozens of incoming “I’m sorry” text messages forced me to confront my new reality — a reality without college softball.

It was one of those things where I didn’t want to say it was ok because it wasn’t.

I was a senior not knowing if I had just played my last game or not.

But I knew that this was what was best for the world.

This pandemic was, and is, a huge deal.

The next day we had a team meeting.

It was very emotional in that room.

During the offseason, expectations were abysmal and low if they existed in the first place. All of the articles and tweets about how things looked grim for Gators softball after losing two of its best players in program history — we saw those. But they didn’t know what we had. Only we knew how special this team was.

We played with each other every day. We saw each other grow, on and off the field. We had a lot of people step up for the common goal. It was really a team effort.

And that’s rare.

I’ve been on teams where the situation wasn’t great. There were a lot of personalities, and not everyone was there for the right reasons. But not this team. Everyone wanted to be there. Everyone was willing to do anything for the team. To win.

It was once in a millenium.

But now, Coach Walton had rounded us all up one last time. He advised us to go home and be with our families because no one knew when this would be over.

But all those girls in that meeting, we were a family. We are a family.

After the meeting, we all filed into the locker room to clean our stuff out.

That was one of the worst parts of this whole experience.

It gave me the final feeling that I thought I would have when I was done with softball. But I wasn’t sure at that point if this was me taking my stuff out because I was done and my career was over, or if this was me simply taking my stuff out and saying, “see you later” to my time at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

At this point, we were all still speechless. We were in shock. We didn’t have any time to think things through. We didn’t have any time to mourn the memories we were supposed to make through the rest of March, April, May and June out on the diamond. It was just thrown at us, and we just had to deal with it.

That was the last time I saw everyone together.

Between that day and the day I found out that I could come back for one more season, I struggled to find the motivation to do much of anything. I didn’t know what to do or what was next for me. It was one of those in-between, really-hard-to-be-in moments. But one thing that got me through was one of my favorite memories from this season.

There’s a picture from our first tournament. We were at USF, and the games before us were running really long. In the background of that picture, the sun was setting and the sky looked really pretty. When I look at it, I just remember us goofing around, playing hacky sack and just being us. There’s not one person sitting off by themselves. Everyone’s together.

Looking back on the 2020 season, every moment was so fun. Even if it didn’t seem that special, every moment just being with those girls was. I never knew what I was going to get coming to practice. It was different every day. It was just one of those things where I tried to soak in every moment knowing that it was supposed to be my last season, but also because I enjoyed every second of it.

So I got up. I continued to train, so I would still be in shape in case the NCAA ruled in our favor, and I would be able to return this season. I talked with the other seniors a lot. We were always talking. And they were in the same boat — not knowing if we were going to get to do this anymore.

That was really hard.

But when I heard the news — that we would be granted another year of eligibility — it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.

Now, I’m just so excited. We have team meetings every week, and I love seeing everyone.

Being able to come back means the world to me. I didn’t want the season to end this way. I wanted to go out on my own terms. We were just getting to the good part — getting into the thick of SEC play with a 3-0 record in conference fresh off a home win against No. 12 FSU. We were very confident about where our season was headed.

This is the time of year where we would be playing for a championship.

But I’m excited to get back out there.

All of that is to say this, Class of 2024:

As cliche as it sounds, play every game like it’s your last.

I’ve dealt with injuries that have put me out for months. I had knee surgery, but luckily, it was one of those things where I got back in time. It easily could’ve ended my season, and, at first, I thought it did.

I’m now going through this pandemic, which did dramatically bring an end to my season.

So, I have a lot of insight on this subject.

I remember Coach Walton coming up to us before the Florida State game — which ended up being the final game of our season — saying, “We’re not guaranteed tomorrow, so play it like it’s your last.”

At that point, we knew we weren’t going to have fans for our Baylor series that weekend. We still thought we were going to play. But he was right.

So I went out there, and I played it like it was my last. I dug down deep and I found something inside of me that I’ve never felt before. It was just passion. The results from our team were outstanding. We beat the Seminoles that day.

You don’t know when your career could end. It could happen at any time. You may not have any foreseeable issues, but it’s just one of those things.

No game is guaranteed.

So when you, eventually, step foot on campus, be prepared to play every game like it’s your last.

Enjoy every minute of it.

I’ll (hopefully) see you all in August.

With love,

Kendyl Lindaman.

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