At the peak, Sarah Cornell was getting phone calls multiple times per hour.
The week the COVID-19 pandemic stopped sporting events in America, Sarah Cornell was coordinating with coaches and family members for her upcoming Senior Day, which would have been at some point the ensuing weekend as Alabama softball hosted BYU, Bryant and Texas for the T-Town Showdown. She was originally upset at the prospect of the fans that typically occupy Rhoads Stadium not being there to celebrate her career with her and her family.
Much worse would soon come.
Cornell’s senior season was cut short by the pandemic, but she jumped at the chance to do it again. The pitcher is part of UA’s seven-senior group that all chose to return to UA for an additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA.
“I knew when the NCAA came out with them saying we’re going to get an extra year, I already decided I was coming back no matter what,” she said. “I felt like we had unfinished business to do. We wanted to win a national championship this year. That has to wait, but next year, we have high hopes.”
That clarity had not reached Cornell in the immediate aftermath of the cancellation. Cornell paid Rhoads Stadium what could have been a final visit, taking a picture from the pitcher’s circle and tweeting, “I’m just going to sit here for awhile.” The tweet was retweeted 137 times and liked nearly 3,000 times. UA Director of Athletics Greg Byrne mentioned it in a media teleconference a few days later and got emotional discussing it.
“It was just gratifying to know that everyone in the sports world was behind the athletes, feeling for them,” Cornell said. “The feelings we had, they had too. It was a good feeling around it.”
The cancellations cut short a season in which Cornell was starting to get into form: her final two appearances last six innings in which she allowed four hits and struck out nine. She got the win in her final outing of 2020.
She returns to be part of a strong pitching staff that returns Cornell and one other senior (Krystal Goodman) on top of the staff’s top two arms, Montana Fouts and Lexi Kilfoyl. The incoming recruiting class also has an in-state pitcher, Jaala Torrence from Dothan, and could have a second pitcher in Alex Salter from Fort Myers, Florida.
It all combines to give Cornell plenty of confidence for the team’s Women’s College World Series chances in 2021.
“It guess it’s even higher now, yeah,” Cornell said. “That fuels the passion we all had and the willingness to win, to come back and be around the people we were around every day. Knowing the seven seniors are coming back, it’s such an exciting thing. It’s inspirational towards the younger girls.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson