LOGAN, Utah - By Megan McCuistion, Utah State athletic media relations
It's more than softball. Ask any of the five members of the Utah State senior class, and they will tell you that their experience as an Aggie softball player was about the relationships they formed with those around them throughout their careers.
Third baseman Amee Aarhus (Camas, Wash.), catcher Brina Buttacavoli (Marysville, Calif.), outfielder Jazmin Clarke (Tracy, Calif.), outfielder Emily Hunter (Centerville, Utah) and pitcher Jordyn McCracken (Coeur d'Alene, Idaho) make up the 2018 Aggie senior class. All five will graduate this weekend, walking together in a late afternoon ceremony.
"The last four years have been irreplaceable. The feeling of being part of a team and working together for something bigger than yourself - it’s something you can’t do alone. You need every piece of the puzzle working together to get a job done," McCracken said. "Whether it’s getting through Friday morning circuits or getting that last out in a game, that’s a feeling I’ll chase for the rest of my life. That feeling of teamwork and competitiveness is something I’m not sure I’ll ever have again."
This particular senior class has seen the Utah State softball program through several ups and downs. As the first class recruited by head coach Steve Johnson, they came in to a team that was trying to reinvent itself. Over the last four seasons, the Aggies have faced several challenges, but have also produced the most successful season in 20 years. These seniors have led the team through the good and the bad, getting the most out of the experience that they could.
"One of the biggest things for me during the hardships was finding joy within them," Hunter said. "There are a lot of hard things we’ve gone through, but the ability we have to find joy in them made it worth it. It’s not easy to find that all the time, but it’s a skill we’ve all learned and we’ll be able to use that for the rest of our lives, no matter what the situation may be."
Hunter and Aarhus have spent just two seasons with the Aggies after transferring in from other programs, but have taken their experiences outside of Logan into their lessons learned.
"I think one of the most important things a young individual can learn is how to just go through failure, but to experience failure and learn from it," Aarhus said. "In the two years I’ve been here, I have had my fair share of failures, but those have been matched with successes. The successful times built my character just as much as the failures did. For me, it was important to endure those failures with the certain people that I did like these teammates and coaches. I can’t imaging going through what we did with a different group of people."
In the game of softball, failure is expected, but takes on a bit of a different definition.
"One of the biggest hidden blessings of softball is that you can fail seven out of 10 times, but if you succeed three times, you’re considered a great player," Buttacavoli said. "Even if you’ve failed more than half the time, finding the joy in the times you’ve succeeded and the times that have built you up, applies to softball and to us as individuals."
When things haven't gone as well as planned or hoped, the Aggies have learned to bounce back.
"I think the word is resiliency," Clarke said. "Even when you do fail, you have so many opportunities to come back and be better. In my four years here, that’s something that I have been able to do."
Through both the good and the bad the Aggies have experienced over the last few years, the seniors have taken the lessons learned and are ready to apply them in the world outside of college and softball.
"Playing college sports teaches you a lot about your own character and teaches you to be the best you can be," McCracken said. "There are two lessons you can learn in life through the lessons of success and failure. Every single moment we’re being challenged in this game on a smaller scale by one of those two things. If you’re successful, how do you respond? But even more than that, when you fail, how does your character show? There have been times where all of us have reacted the wrong way, but having the opportunity to be here and learn these lessons will be important when it’s an actual stage and not just a game. It has built us as people."
Each of the five graduating Aggies have played a role on this team, both on and off the field. They are leaders, teachers and friends to those who surround them. A huge part of the motivation to work through the struggles have come from the relationships the members of the team have formed.
"Because we are so close, when you fall down or slip up, there’s always someone who can tell you to be better. Because we have that relationship, it has opened the door to help guide each other," Buttacavoli said. "We know who we want to be and we know the direction we want to go. When you teeter or drift off, everyone is there to pull you back to the right path. It’s been a blessing that we’ve been so close, because there have been so many times someone could have singled off."
Aarhus has also looked to her teammates for motivation and support.
"I can’t emphasize enough how important this group of girls is to me. From this whole experience, the highs and the lows, I have grown and learned from them," she said. "As teammates, these sisters and friends of mine have made sure that whenever I fall short as an individual, whenever I fall short of the person they expect and need me to be, they are there to remind me and pick me up. That itself has made me grow and I would not have grown as much without them."
That team relationship influences everything the Aggies have felt on the field.
"When we have our highest highs, it’s such an amazing thing to celebrate. When we’re at our lowest lows, it’s equally as great, but in a different way," Aarhus said. "We have each others’ back like no other. Even when we’re losing, we’re not losing."
The Aggies have grown closer together as a team throughout the last few years, helping and supporting each other through the process.
"The reason we can find joy in the trials and in the good times is because we’re so close. At the end of the day, no matter how we perform on the field, we all love and care about each other individually," McCracken said. "We all want to see each other succeed and see the best come out of it. Even if we have a rough day, we want to see each other progress and get better. It’s easier to keep your mind on the big picture when you care about the person, rather than getting caught up in the moment."
Relationships and the family feel of the Utah State program played key roles in the recruitment of each member of the senior class.
"On my visit, I paid attention to how the girls interacted and how the coaches interacted with the girls. You can go anywhere to get an education and play softball, but it’s about relationships to me," Aarhus said. "The relationships were so strong and that’s something I wanted to end my college career with."
Joining the Aggies after two seasons at Oregon State, Aarhus was looking for more.
"I didn’t have that at my first school, when I wasn’t looking at things that were as long-term. I didn’t look deeper into the things that were going to be long-lasting," she said. "Because of my experience there, I made sure the next place I ended up at, relationships would be key."
Buttacavoli had visited other campuses as a softball recruit, but quickly felt something special about Utah State. Friendly faces and helpful students on campus had already sold her before she even met with then-head coach Carissa Kalaba.
"I knew right away that this was the type of environment I wanted to be in. I wanted to be at a place where if softball didn’t work out, I could still go to school and be happy," she said. "My mom was set on this place. She drove us to the bottom of Old Main Hill to look up at it, the A was blue and everything, and I knew. I knew before coach even made the offer that I wanted to come to Utah State."
Joining the Aggies after two seasons at Snow College, Hunter was looking for the perfect fit for her to continue to grow as a softball player and as a person.
"When I chose to come to Utah State, I chose it because I knew I would become the best player I could here. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and I knew I wasn’t going to be the star player, but I knew this would be where I could have the most tools to get the best education I could while becoming the best softball player I could be," she said. "I don’t regret that decision. Everything I’ve gone through has made me a better person."
One of Johnson's first recruits as a head coach, Clarke was in the right place with the right hit at the right time.
"Coach Johnson was there to watch a pitcher on my travel team and my coach told him about me. I hit a home run as he was leaving the park, so he turned around and came back. I hit another home run in my next at-bat and he gave me a chance," she said. "I’m very thankful I was given this opportunity. It has changed my life tremendously."
Conversely, McCracken had committed to the Aggies as a freshman in high school after receiving an offer from Kalaba.
"I was a young star-struck kid who just saw it as 'a college wants me' and jumped in pretty quickly. When she resigned and coach Johnson came in, I was in a panic and tried to get recruited as many places as I could as I went into my senior year," she said.
After watching her play in a game, Johnson kept McCracken's offer open to her. She took the time to reevaluate what she was looking for in a collegiate experience, but decided Utah State was indeed the place for her.
"There’s something about Utah State that had me drawn back when I was 15 years old," she said. "I really think that it was something God had planned in my life."
With graduation just a day a way, the Utah State seniors are ready to leave behind their college life and head into a bit of the unknown. As they move to their next steps in life, each is ready to find out what life has in store.
"My coaches and parents always told me the four years would fly by. After my first conditioning session my freshman year, I just said ‘yeah right.’ And now it’s here," Aarhus said. "It’s a relief, I’m proud of myself, I’m grateful and I’m excited."
Aarhus is planning to move home to Washington, where she will pursue a career in project management.
Buttacavoli is also set to move back home, where she has a human resources internship lined up with the Foundation of California Community Colleges.
"There has never been a place like home for me. I’m really close with my family, so being away for four years has me really ready to go back," she said. "Right now it’s time for the internship and mama’s cooking."
Clarke is ready for some free time and the opportunity to see the world.
"It’s bittersweet. I’m excited and feel very prepared for the next chapter of my life, but I’m sad to leave my sisters and this experience behind," Clarke said. "I really want to travel. I know I should probably get a job, but I want to go everywhere. I was always playing softball, so that’s something I’ve never really gotten to do."
Hunter is moving to Cleveland, Ohio, where her husband, Macay, has accepted a job in sales.
"I’m definitely feeling more prepared as graduation gets closer," she said. "I’m feeling more comfortable and confident that everything I’ve done has shaped me for my future and I’m excited for this next step."
McCracken is also going to move home to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, while she figures out what her next step is. She plans to work as a substitute teacher and see if teaching is something she wants to pursue.
"I’m finding my identity as something other than a softball player or college athlete. I’m nervous though, because I resist change a lot. Saying hello to something new means saying goodbye to something else," she said. "I struggle with that aspect of it because I love the life and the friends I have here. I’m excited to get home and explore what’s next for me."
No matter what direction these graduating Aggies go, each feels more than prepared, thanks to their time as student-athletes.
"Being a Division I student-athlete, I feel more than prepared going into the next chapter," Buttacavoli said. "Everything that we’ve done has shaped me into who I want to be moving forward."
Though their time as collegiate softball players is done, the graduating seniors know they are taking more away from their time in Logan than just softball experience. From here, they will carry relationships and memories with them that will keep the moving forward.
Utah State Softball Playing...
Utah State softball (18-31, 7-14 MW) will conclude its 2018 season this weekend with a three-game...05/09/2018
Game Notes: USU Softball...
Utah State softball (18-31, 7-14 MW) will conclude its 2018 season this weekend with a three-game...05/08/2018
Registration Now Open for...
Registration for the summer selection of Steve Johnson Elite Softball Experience camps is now open.05/07/2018
Utah State Softball Senior ...
Despite a late comeback, Utah State softball closed the home portion of its 2018 season in a 7-5 ...05/06/2018
Walk-Off Single Leads Aggie...
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, a single to left field from senior third baseman Amee...05/05/2018
USU Softball Opens Final...
Utah State softball opened its last home series of the season Friday, dropping an 8-4 contest to ...05/04/2018
Utah State Softball Seniors...
Ask any of the five members of the Utah State senior class, and they will tell you that their...05/04/2018
Aggie Softball Closing Home...
Utah State softball (17-29, 6-12 MW) is set to play its final home series of the 2018 season this...05/03/2018
Official Aggie Gear