LSU’s Aliyah Andrews always wanted an identity outside of softball.
Then came the heart-breaking news March 12 that LSU’s 2020 season was over because of the coronavirus health scare. Suddenly Andrews, one of the team’s five seniors, found herself in an emotional tug-of-war and didn’t want to abandon her on-the-field persona.
“A lot of time we say `Softball’s not who I am, it’s what I do,’” said Andrews, a two-time All-Southeastern Conference selection and All-South Region choice. “But at that time, it felt like softball was me. In my heart it felt like something was taken away. It was just an empty feeling.”
Not only was LSU off to a promising 21-3 start, but the Tigers were about to embark on the beginning of SEC play at South Carolina when the three-game series was postponed.
A day later, LSU coach Beth Torina tried diverting her team’s attention from the lost weekend, scheduling a scrimmage that was livened up with a version of ‘softball bingo.’ It’s where the divided team had to complete some of the game’s fundamentals such as sacrifice flies, stealing a base or converting a double play to cover spaces on their respective cards.
This was more than just a competition and a result on a scoreboard, but a team enjoying what turned out to be its final opportunity to play in Tiger Park when the NCAA later announced that same day the cancellation of the Women’s College World Series.
LSU players cleaned out their lockers on March 14, and enjoyed pizza and ice cream. Teammates exchanged emotional farewells and began returning home.
“At that point (scrimmage) they told us we would be off two weeks,” Andrews said. “She (Torina) had us scrimmaging, trying to keep the spirits high. The bingo was fun. She tried to make us not worry.
“Then we’re told the next day we had to clean out our lockers. It was good to be around everybody, but it was definitely a sad day. At that point, I’m thinking I’m done with playing softball at the college level. That’s what was running through my mind.”
That was until March 30 when the NCAA voted to extend the eligibility of all senior athletes participating in spring sports.
It didn’t take Andrews, a native of Oldsmar, Fla., long to decide she would return for her sixth season in 2021, joining fellow seniors outfielder Akiya Thymes, pitcher Maribeth Gorsuch, infielder Amanda Doyle and outfielder Claire Weinberger.
“I was very antsy, just not knowing if we were going to get a chance and whether or not this was it for me,” Andrews said. “Was this the last time that I would be stepping on Tiger Park? It felt horrible and I hope to never have that feeling again.
“I’m so grateful that I get to come back, and we’ll go from there. I’m grateful they obviously made the right choice and we all get a second chance. I’m super excited, but it’s going to be weird thinking how it’s going to be with 32 people on a team.”
The seniors were excited about returning and began informally discussing their offseason plans and possibly returning to campus for fall workouts. It would set the scene for preseason workouts next January that dovetail into the start of the 2021 season.
“At first, we (seniors) all had hope and after the first week (following the season’s cancellation) we were all talking about coming back,” Andrews said. “We talked about when we get back to Baton Rouge, we were going to do this or the next time we’re on the field, we’re going to do this. We just had all the hope in the world.”
Once the NCAA rendered its decision, the mind of the fleet-footed Andrews began to race with visions of conquering the team’s character-building shuttle run and “snakes” – a bending run up and down the steep incline and across LSU’s Tiger Stadium.
“I thought, ‘Do I really want to run the shuttle again, do I really want to run snakes again?” Andrews said. “I was kidding. Any chance I get to put on that jersey again, I was going to do it. I’m thankful that I’m going to be able to do it again.”
Andrews, named to the Top 50 watch list for USA Softball’s Collegiate Player of the Year, hopes to pick up where she left off in March. She posted career highs in batting average (.408) and RBIs (11) along with a team-best 18 stolen bases and a perfect fielding percentage (1.000) in 27 total chances.
Over her last 10 games, Andrews recorded multiple hits eight times and drove in six runs over her last six games.
“I was getting my groove back,” she said. “I started off a little slow. I was trying to get all of my tools together.”
Andrews will also be afforded the opportunity of resuming her pursuit of several school records. She already holds the single-season steals mark of 47 set last season.
With 118 career steals, Andrews needs 38 more to surpass Dee Douglas’ mark of 155. She could also become the school’s all-time hits leader, needing 77 to surpass Bailey Landry (293). Depending on the success of her final season, Andrews could finish among the top five in both career batting average and runs scored.
Andrews, who graduated last December in Mass Communications, has taken the necessary steps toward reaching such milestones, following the recommended workout guidelines of LSU’s coaching staff.
Andrews has jogged around her neighborhood and gone bike riding with her mother Jeanene. She’s also been able to hit into a net at her home, hit off a batting tee and hit weighted softballs thrown by her mom.
It’s been a team-wide initiative that’s ranged from California to Florida where individually LSU’s returning players have worked toward a collective goal – a trip to the Women’s College World Series for the fifth time under Torina and eighth time in school history.
“People are finding ways and that’s what is great about this team,” Andrews said. “Nobody wants to be mediocre. I felt like this past year we were destined for greatness. We had every single aspect going for us. That’s what is so difficult because you think of what could have been. How good we could have been; how far we could have made it.”