Kylie Hayton

Burlinton-Edison High School graduate Kylie Hayton had her senior softball season cut short at the University of Montana.

Kylie Hayton, a softball outfielder at the University of Montana, was playing in an early-season series in Phoenix when she heard people talking about a new disease — something called "coronavirus."

"I was like, 'What is that?' I hadn't heard of it. I had no idea," Hayton said.

At the time, the Burlington-Edison High School graduate was focused on her senior season with the Grizzlies.

After a hot finish to a junior season in which she batted .350 over the final 26 games, Hayton was looking forward to a senior season where her team was expected to win the Big Sky Conference title. The Grizzlies started well, with four wins in their first four games and an extra-innings battle with 18th-ranked Texas Tech.

A few months later, the Grizzlies' season was over.

Hayton hadn't been able to play a full senior season in high school due to an ACL injury, and this year the COVID-19 pandemic brought her senior season to a similarly jolting conclusion.

After 138 total games and 73 starts, her career with a young Grizzlies program wrapped up with a flurry of phone calls and texts. With new rules in place, the team couldn't even have a final team meeting.

"It's weird not to hug your teammates and coaches goodbye," Hayton said.

For Skagit County athletes who play spring sports in college, COVID-19 brought their seasons to a sudden end.

And while each was quick to point out their disappointments don't equal the economic or personal devastation the disease has wrought, they admit the endings were difficult.

"It's the craziest thing I'll probably ever experience," Hayton said.

Hayton's former high school softball teammate Jacki Smith was also entering her senior season with high hopes.

After a sterling career at Burlington-Edison she'd gone on to a productive one at Bethune-Cookman, a NCAA Division I program in Daytona Beach, Florida.

When her junior year ended early due to injury, the shortstop had been leading her team with a .333 batting average. Coming into her senior season, she was named to the preseason all-conference team, and her team was tabbed to win the conference for the third consecutive year.

When the coronavirus began to spread, Smith figured her team's softball season would be postponed and completed later. But by the time the coach held a team meeting on the Wildcats' home field, she and her teammates knew something more permanent was coming.

"Everyone knew at that point but she wanted to have everyone come to the field one last time," Smith said.

Smith said she was sad and disappointed by the circumstances, but tried to take a big-picture view and realize she's not alone. 

"It was the entire country. There are thousands of players like me, like Kylie. I'm trying to trust the process and stay patient, but it was an unfortunate situation," she said. 

In March, Mount Vernon graduate Paityn Cyr was heading into her senior softball season at Western Washington University in Bellingham, where she'd been an all-conference honorable mention the year before and authored a 15-game hitting streak, the fourth-longest in program history.

The former Skagit Valley Herald Softball Player of the Year was especially excited to make a run for the postseason, something the Vikings had missed out on by a single game the previous season.

Instead, the Vikings' season ended suddenly after a 1-0 loss to Central Washington University in Ellensburg. It had been their first loss in five games.

"It seemed to come out of nowhere," Cyr said of the season's end. "We'd watched the trackers. We thought, 'It's not going to be bad here.' I'll remember how fast it hit."

The NCAA has extended eligibility for athletes whose seasons were shortened by COVID-19.

The three Skagit County athletes say it's a tough decision, especially for those who have graduated and made postcollege plans. Hayton said she agonized over whether to return, but plans to pursue nursing.

"It was a harder decision to come back or not than it was where to go to school," she said.

Cyr said she's open to playing again if it lines up with her graduate school plans. She said if she plays again, it won't be at Western. She doesn't know where it will be.

She said, "It's up in the air, like everything else." 

— Reporter Trevor Pyle: 360-416-2156, tpyle@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Sports_SVH, Facebook.com/bytrevorpyle

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