Dugout chants, loud music and wet bleachers. On Saturday, Oct. 21, the WWU Softball Alumni Event reunited old teammates for some lighthearted competition.
WWU alumni from the 90s to 2021 came together to play and reminisce. Over the festivities, teammates from the 2017 GNAC championship team got to catch up and recall one of the best seasons in the program’s history.
With an overall record of 34-19, led by big hitter Emily Benson and ace freshman pitcher Anna Kasner, the Vikings won their first GNAC tournament in program history, including a 5-0 victory in the championship game over Western Oregon.
The team set single-season records for hits (449), home runs (37), extra-base hits (126) and total bases (660). The pitching unit posted the second most strikeouts in a season (319).
The current assistant coach, Shearyna Labasan, was a sophomore pitcher for WWU in 2017. Labasan had a 3.37 ERA with a 12-6 record and a batting average of .360 with 14 stolen bases. She was selected to the GNAC All-Conference second team.
“The team chemistry on that team was really good,” Labasan said. “We were all close friends.”
Labasan explained that since the team was so close, they could find joy in playing the game together.
Benson played a large role in the offense that season, ending the year with a .418 batting average.
“The season before, we didn’t even make it to the [GNAC] tournament so it was cool to go out and win it all,” Benson said.
Benson broke multiple records that season and became Western’s all-time single-season leader in on-base percentage (.548) and OPS (1.281). She was also second all-time for slugging percentage (.733), third for runs scored (44) and second for total bases (107).
Benson was named first-team GNAC All-Conference team for the second consecutive year.
2017 freshman outfielder Mackenzie Palmer recalled being underdogs.
“We had a small team, but the team chemistry made us feel very close with each other,” Palmer said.
Palmer was one of the team’s more efficient hitters as a freshman, earning a .304 batting average and contributing to their no-fly zone outfield.
Both Palmer and Benson said they gained lifelong friends during their time with the team.
They made NCAA II West regionals as the 8-seed for the fourth time in program history. They beat the 5-seed CSU Monterey Bay 5-3 to claim their first regionals win in program history. Unfortunately, the season then ended with losses to Dixie State and Sonoma State.
The identity of the softball program was reflected in the alumni game, emphasizing teamwork and enjoyment of the game. Players weren’t focused on the competition, but rather on having fun and building connections with new and old players.
Once the game was over, both the old and new players got the chance to meet on the field to hang out and get to know each other.
Labasan believes this event is a great team-building exercise and expressed the importance of meeting the alumni players. Current players presented gifts to all the returning players before the game to show their gratitude.
After her time as a player, Labasan returned as the assistant coach under head coach Sheryl Gilmore. When discussing the importance of the alumni event, Labasan said, “Your time with the program doesn’t just end when your college softball career is over.”
Nate Landi is a senior at Western Washington University and a campus reporter for The Front. He is a journalism major and is very interested in sports and local news. You can reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.