Senior Emily Benson, the all-time home run leader in Vikings softball history, returns to the diamond with teammate Makinlee Sellevold after sitting out last season. // Photo courtesy of Western Athletics By Malia Cantimbuhan Normally when a student-athlete joins a collegiate sports program and starts immediately making waves, the expectation is that they’re going to be part of the program until they’re no longer eligible. Not so for Western softball pitcher and infielder Makinlee Sellevold. Sellevold, from Everett, sat out last season to give her mental health the center of attention. She took the time to focus on herself and pursue her academic goals. “I needed to take a step back and evaluate what I thought was important in life,” Sellevold said. Sellevold, who is in her senior year at Western, made the decision to focus on school, save up money and acquire her teaching certificate. During her time away, Sellevold assistant-coached Skagit Valley College’s softball team in the Northwest Athletic Conference. Coaching made her realize how much she missed the sport and what it was like being on a team. “I miss having that team aspect and having that group of friends. Just working toward something I’ve always loved to do,” Sellevold said. Sellevold said she was nervous coming back after taking a year off, but her teammates were all accepting and understanding. First baseman Emily Benson from West Richland, WA, also sat out last season to focus on school. After having time away from softball, she gained perspective and realized being back on the team was how she wanted to finish her last year at Western. Both players return to the team after missing a less-than-stellar 15-32 season that culminated in previous head coach Amy Suiter stepping down to spend more time with her family, according to Western Athletics. It’s only a few weeks into the season and the seniors are confident in the future of the team. “I have really high expectations for us this year,” said Sellevold. “We are really clicking on a level that I don’t think we’ve ever clicked in my past four years.” This year’s program will also feature six new players including Tamia Hirano, Seli Aholelei, Sam Mutolo, Brooke Fesenbek, Rachel Christensen and Ciara Ortiz, along with new head coach Sheryl Gilmore. “Sheryl is awesome. She’s super supportive and gives everything to this program. All the new girls are super hard-working and very passionate about softball,” Benson said. Sellevold said she enjoys going to practice every day, even it it’s at 6:30 a.m.. “The team is getting along great. Our chemistry is awesome,” Sellevold said. “We all laugh and joke around and dance all practice long. It’s a real joy to practice.” The Vikings returned from the 10th Annual Desert Stinger in Las Vegas this past weekend, where they defeated California State University Dominguez Hills 8-0, then lost to two nationally ranked opponents, California State University, Chico and Concordia University Irvine. Two additional games were canceled due to rain. Despite a rough beginning, the growth of the team will be determined during practice. “We all work so hard in practice and we’re constantly getting better and we are all very good. We push each other to get better, which is really cool -- that we’re supportive of each other at the same time,” Sellevold said. Sellevold heads into the season ranked ninth in batting average in Viking softball history, as well as third in slugging percentage (.544), fourth in doubles (38), and sixth in RBIs (100). Benson is ranked fourth in batting average, first in slugging (.632), and first in home runs (31). The Vikings will continue their season Thursday, Feb. 7 against Western New Mexico in the Dixie State Courtyard Classic in St. George, Utah.