Off to their best start in softball in three years, the Aggies were gearing up for their home opener and then the start of Mountain West Conference action.
Then it came to a screeching halt. There will be no more games.
Utah State had won two in a row and five of its last six games. The 2020 season ended with a 13-11 record and the cancellation of the rest of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our coaches, who do a great job informing us and keeping us up to date, brought us in for a meeting and let us know,” Aggie senior Riley Plogger said. “He (head coach Steve Johnson) gave us the news.”
How did the team react to finding out the season was being called?
“It was rough,” Plogger said. “I was at home and saw the posts about the NCAA canceling their championships. When I saw that, I figured if the NCAA was canceling, we wouldn’t play. It was a waiting game until coach J(ohnson) called a meeting. I put two and two together. I was holding back tears on my drive to the team meeting.
“When I walked in the coaches didn’t say anything, but I knew what news they were about to give us, and I broke down. I pulled it together for a second, then broke right back down when he gave us the news. I was so glad to be surrounded by my teammates. We all went through it together and just tried to grasp what was going on.”
For the first few days after having their season canceled and before social distancing was being stressed, the Aggie softball team hung out together and went on some hikes. Plogger said they didn’t leave each other’s sides much.
Plogger is one of five seniors on the USU team. The other seniors include: infielder Ryann Holmes, third baseman Erin Kuba, catcher Allanah Alvarado and pitcher Alissa Noble. There has been some discussion as to athletes that play in the spring may get an extra year of eligibility.
Would Plogger, who has her name all over the USU record lists, entertain coming back for another year?
“It’s tough,” Plogger said. “The NCAA has said they may grant an eligibility release, but there is so much to it. We have scholarship numbers set for next year. If I come back and want to take my year, it probably affects younger generations down the road. There is so much to it.
“All year I’ve been preparing my heart and my mind to move on with my life. The thought of another year would be amazing, but I don’t get to pick up where we left off. I would come back and do a whole fall of training and another preseason and, don’t get me wrong, I’m going to miss those memories, but in my mind and heart, it’s time to move on. It’s a lot sooner than I was preparing to move on, it’s still what I’m thinking I need to do. I’m super sad about the time lost, but I can’t get that back. Everyone has their own situation, but for me it is best to move on.”
Plogger is on track to graduate with a degree in communicative disorders and deaf education. Being involved in helping with Special Olympics while growing up helped her look into different fields to help others.
The scholar-athlete is planning on graduate school in the future, so like she said coming back would really disrupt her career plans. She earned second-team All-Mountain West accolades as a freshman, but has been an Academic All-Mountain West honoree every year as an Aggie.
“The biggest thing is we are given the most amazing support staff,” Plogger said. “We are given tutors, a beautiful study hall. Our academic advisors are on us constantly. They whipped me into shape a couple of times, so a couple of those Academic Mountain West awards should be hanging on their wall. The biggest thing is I’m not going to go play pro ball or make a career out of it.”
Plogger went on to credit the head coach for supporting the Aggie athletes in whatever career path they choose, which sometimes means juggling practice times.
“We are people off the field and that has been instilled in me since I stepped on campus,” Plogger said. “I took a lot of pride in that.”
Before her senior season was cut way too short, the 5-foot-5 outfielder from Redlands, California, was able to set a school record in what would be the final weekend of the season. Plogger scored the winning run in a 3-2 victory against Saint Mary’s, which pushed her past former teammate Victoria Saucedo (113) for the most runs in career. Plogger finished with 115.
“That was an amazing feeling, and the way we were able to do it was cool,” Plogger said. “One of the coolest things about setting this record is it is not a record I can do on my own. Literally, I can not do it on my own. It was such a cool experience to think of all the teammates I’ve had over the four years.
“Vic Saucedo is a good friend of mine. She texted me congrats. I told her she was responsible for this, because she hit me in a number of times my freshman year. It was an amazing honor because of everyone it took to make it happen.”
While she is the school record holder in runs, Plogger’s name is all over USU’s top 10 career lists. She is fourth in walks (74), tied for sixth in doubles (33), eighth in RBIs (86) and 10th in total bases (250). Plogger is just outside the top 10 in batting average (.312, needed .314 to be 10th), home runs (17, needed 18 to be 10th) and triples (7, needed two more to be in top 10).
Then there are season record lists. She is not on top, but her name is sprinkled among the top 10 in runs (38, tied for second in 2019; 34, tied for eighth in 2017), walks (27, tied for second in 2018; 25, tied for sixth in 2019), triples (5, tied for seventh in 2017) and RBIs (39, seventh in 2017).
What statistic does she take most pride in?
“They are all pretty cool,” Plogger said. “The runs means a lot to me. I knew going into this season, I knew I was close. I wanted a lot of things going into this season, like a Mountain West championship, but the runs was something from a personal standpoint.
“But I like the walks. I like the free passes. I think that is a cool one. But they are all pretty dang cool. I feel blessed.”
Plogger has certainly been durable during her career. She has missed just four games during her four years, and they all came when she was a sophomore due to an injury. While she would not use the word durable to describe herself and gives credit to trainers for helping her be ready to play and “stitching” her back together, the fact is she has started 168 games during her Aggie career. Every game she has played in, she has started.
“I stepped in with an opportunity to play as a freshman,” Plogger said. “I’ve been blessed with opportunities since I came, and it’s just been taking advantage of those opportunities and working hard. It means a lot that he (Johnson) had confidence in me. Records will get broken, but when your coaches and teammates have faith in you and want you out there, that’s something that means a lot to me as an athlete.”
For her first three seasons at USU, Plogger played in left field. This year she made the move to right and was happy to be pushed out of her comfort zone. She said it took a lot of work in the fall to be prepared and is grateful as it helped her refocus on the game.
She didn’t know anything about USU while playing in high school. In fact, she was leaning on going to Auburn, where Johnson was an assistant coach and was recruiting her. When Johnson became the head coach of the Aggies, he invited her for a visit.
“I was wanting to go to a Power 5 school, but when you are young you get a reality check,” Plogger said. “I was resistant at first on visiting because I had never been to Utah. I came up to a camp and fell in love with Logan. I left the camp and told my mom I was coming here no matter what they offered. It was the best decision I ever made.”
Her best memories are of spending time with teammates on the bus rides, at hotels and during team dinners. She will miss trying to motivate her team from the dugout. Plogger said the bonds she has made will stick with her more than wins or losses.
For now, Plogger is “dialing in on school” so she can graduate and go home and see her family before her next adventure in life.