The numbers 21, 19, and 2 were stenciled in purple near first base at the Class of 1895 Field as the Princeton University softball team hosted Cornell last Sunday in its season-ending doubleheader.
The message in the dirt was a tribute to the program’s Class of 2014 as it celebrated Senior Day.
While No. 21, outfielder Maddie Cousens, and No. 19, third baseman Tory Roberts, were on hand to wrap up their Tiger career and accept the cheers for a superb four-year run, it was No. 2 that sparked the most heartfelt emotion as it represented Khristin Kyllo, a high-spirited infielder/outfielder who entered Princeton with the Class of 2014 but passed away in her freshman year on January 13, 2011 from natural causes.
As Cousens reflected on the day, she noted that she experienced a wide range of emotions. “I think it was mostly just remembering Khristin,” said Cousens.
“We had her jersey here today and looking at that and remembering the games we did get to play with her in the fall of her freshman year. Also I just tried to make it happy and just think about how amazing our time has been here for Tory and I. It is really nice having a small class because we are really close; so together we were able to celebrate today and celebrate Khristin.”
Cousens proceeded to celebrate a special day on the diamond as Princeton rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the opener to pull out a 3-2 victory and then won the nightcap 5-2 as the Albany, Calif. native went 4-for-4 with two runs in her final appearance in orange and black.
“My trainer calls it swiss cheese defense and thinks you have got to find the holes so that was my goal for the day,” said Cousens.
“I didn’t really hit the ball that solidly but I found some holes. It was a little senior luck; it felt really good to end that way.”
While Princeton didn’t achieve its goal of winning an Ivy League title this spring, ending at 17-26 overall and 9-11 Ivy, Cousens saw plenty of positives.
“I just think we played with a lot of heart,” asserted Cousens, who ended the 2014 campaign with a .300 average, going 33-for-110 with 3 homers and 12 RBIs.
“The team is really young and it is amazing to meet all of these freshmen. It makes me sad that I don’t get to spend more time with them.”
Cousens believes good times are ahead for Princeton under the guidance of head coach Lisa Sweeney and assistant coach Jen Lapicki.
“It is coach Sweeney’s and coach Lapicki’s first two years here,” said Cousens.
“They are building a dynasty and it is just going up from here. It is going to be great.”
Sweeney, for her part, believes things are headed in the right direction for the Tigers. “Every season has its challenges but I think for this team there was a lot of emotional and mental growth that had to happen for us,” said Sweeney.
“I think a lot of people will be introspective about that and say what can I do better. Our coaching staff will do the same, taking a step back and saying how can we improve, how can we figure this out, and make sure that next season is more of a reflection of the work that we put in.”
The program wanted to make sure that Cousens and Roberts had a special finale.
“It is always emotional on Senior Day, regardless of how the season has gone,” said Sweeney.
“It is so special for them. You remember it from your own career. Being able to play our last games at home is a big deal for them. It was cool, it was a good day for both of them.”
It was also good for the late Kyllo to be honored. “It is so fantastic because Tom and Julie (Kyllo’s parents) have stayed a part of the program, they are at every game and it was just so nice to be able to represent her today as well,” said Sweeney. “It was important closure for the seniors to feel like she was with us today.”
In Sweeney’s view, Kyllo’s impact will be felt beyond the softball field. “The awareness for epilepsy is Kristin’s legacy now,” said Sweeney of Kyllo, who suffered a series of seizures, starting in high school.
“All of us try to do our job to make sure that people are educated about the causes. It is important.”
Cousens and Roberts have played an important role in leading the Tigers this spring.
“I think they were dedicated to pushing the program in a different direction,” said Sweeney.
“Although this season, the wins and losses didn’t reflect that, they understand and the girls understand that we are on a different path and that we always have bigger and better goals. They were just great leaders, and more importantly, great people for the rest of the girls to look up to and model their careers after.”
As the Princeton players took the field on Sunday, they were primed to come up big for their seniors.
“We challenged the girls with it yesterday, saying when you come tomorrow, you are not playing for yourself, you are playing for your seniors,” said Sweeney.
“There is a special element to that, you are competing both for your own pride but also for somebody else on the team standing right next to you and you know how much this program means to them. The team came through today, it was great.”
For Cousens, spending four years in the Princeton program is leaving her with a lifetime of memories.
“Honestly, most of the things I am going to remember are off the field, the kind of things like the long bus rides, stressing out over homework and having teammates be there for you, and all the little traditions we have” said Cousens, who will be working for a startup firm in New York City after graduation.
“There are the big games that really stick with you but most of the moments are the bonds I have created with all of these people on the team and that is what I am going to look back on.”