Cuevas’ season ended before conference started


Madera Tribune File Photo

With her parents, Leticia, left, and Alfonso watching, Madera Coyotes softball standout Aaliyah Cuevas signs her National Letter of Intent to play softball at Fresno State in 2017. Cuevas’ junior season was canceled just before the Bulldogs started Moutain West Conference play.

 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the colleges, former Madera Coyotes softball standout Aaliyah Cuevas and the Fresno State Bulldogs softball team was in Seattle and then told to head back home.

”We were on our way to Boise,” Cuevas said. “We only landed in Seattle and that was the first time we might not make it to Boise because the game might get canceled. After that, we had to go right back to Fresno the same day and we found out our whole season might be canceled.”

Boise State was to be the first Mountain West Conference game for the Bulldogs, who ended the season ranked No. 23 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll and No. 24 in the USA TODAY/NFCA Division I Coaches poll. They were the only Mountain West team ranked in either poll and finished the season with a 21-4 record, including going 15-0 at home and winning 13 of its last 14 games, including a 4-3 win over No. 3 Texas.

“Our team was doing really good,” Cuevas said. “Right when we got back to Fresno, we found out our season was canceled. I was in shock that that would even happen. You never even expect that to happen, to have your whole season canceled and you might not even get to your first conference game. A lot of girls were in shock. We were left not knowing what was going to happen. Just recently, we found out we are getting another year. Before that, we were sad because we felt that this was our year and we were already doing big things.”

Since the season was canceled and Fresno State is closed, Cuevas returned home to Madera where she has been with her family, working out and spending time with her nieces. However, she does find time to watch Netflix and, of course, do homework every day.

“I already was taking a few online classes to begin with so I already had work to do,” she said. “There were some of my teammates that didn’t have homework because their teachers were getting stuff together. I have been doing homework every day since this happened. I’ve been busy.”

Although upset her junior season was cut short, Cuevas was more hurt that the team wouldn’t be able to play out this season to see how well they could have done.

“I was really excited about this season because we were doing so well,” she said. “I was sad when I found out. I wanted to really play with this team. I knew were going to win the conference.”

The NCAA recently announced that seniors were getting a year of eligibility back. Cuevas also believes she will be getting a year back as well.

“The Council also will allow schools to self-apply a one-year extension of eligibility for spring-sport student-athletes, effectively extending each student’s five-year “clock” by a year,” according to the NCAA website. “This decision was especially important for student-athletes who had reached the end of their five-year clock in 2020 and saw their seasons end abruptly.”

“The NCAA hasn’t really said what they are going to count this year as,” Cuevas said. “It’s kind of like a one-year extension. We don’t know what’s going to happen financially. We just know we’re getting another year. I really don’t know what’s going to happen yet. This year was basically a redshirt year. Nothing counted for everybody. It’s a restart to the season. They get another year. It would be my junior year again, but I will be a senior academic-wise.”

With another year under her belt, the returning of possibly graduating seniors and incoming freshman class, Cuevas thinks next year’s Bulldogs’ team will be even better.

“We were already doing so well with what we had,” she said. “Now that we’re going to keep our seniors, they are all coming back, thankfully and we’re getting new freshmen coming in, which is going to push the girls on the team. It’s going to push the incoming freshmen because they are going to really have to work to get playing time.”

Cuevas is used primarily as a pinch-runner and is inserted into key situations. She has scored seven runs this season while appearing in nine games. Last year, she appeared in 48 games and scored 21 runs.

“That’s my job,” she said. “I get put in for game-winning/tying situations or important situations. I like being able to help the team in that way if we need that one run, I’m able to do it. It’s kind of a sacrifice because I don’t do anything else, but run. I only get to run once a game. It’s when I’m really needed. It’s been really fun.”

Cuevas knows her craft and does what she can to be mentally ready to be inserted into the game.

“I usually know when I’m going to be put into a game,” she said. “I’ll know why I’m in the game. Sometimes they will save me just in case we get into a tiebreaker in a close game.”

She also works on running the bases at practice, but it also helps her team get ready for faster runners.

“I’ve accepted my role,” she said. “The coaches and players don’t see me as just a baserunner. They see me as an important position. I practice baserunning every day. I help the team every day by running in situations at practice while also getting better. It’s a super important job. You can win games by knowing how to run bases and getting that extra run in.”

Cuevas credits her baserunning to what she learned during her time in Madera, including winning the Valley Championship with an inside-the-park home run, culminating in a great slide to avoid the tag for the game-winning run.

“I think about the inside-the-park home run a lot,” she said. “In high school, I was able to help my team win the championship game by scoring that last needed run. In college, I’m able to do the same, sometimes. I’m able to get the extra run in and every run matters. Even in college, there were a few times when I stole a base where the throw beat me, but knowing how slide, I was able to dive around the tag and reach out to the bag. It’s not all about speed, but it’s about how to do it with technique.”

Although she may only be used once a game, Cuevas said she still isn’t immune to getting yelled at.

“I still get in trouble by just being a baserunner,” she said. “I’ll get in trouble like any other player. I’m a strategic piece they want to use at the right time.”

Cuevas is a couple years from a degree in criminology with an emphasis in behavioral science.

“School has been good,” she said. “My grades are almost like how they were in high school. College is easier in ways and harder in ways. There is a lot more homework and work I have to do. Sometimes, I feel like I’m teaching myself, especially in the online classes. It will get you if you procrastinate. There could be five things due in one day. It’s not good to procrastinate because one thing could take a week to finish.”

Cuevas would eventually like to become a firefighter and getting a degree could help with that. Her Plan B is to go into something that she can use her degree with, like corrections.

“There’s not a major you need to be a firefighter,” she said. “It helps having a degree to help with ranking to get paid more. I would still go to the fire academy and it’s a process.”

Cuevas feels that becoming a firefighter can help her give back to people and it’s a job that you can change someone’s life with.

“I have just wanted to help and give back,” she said. “I feel like it’s a job you won’t get tired of because you’re doing something good every day. You’re doing something new every day. You’re on your toes and helping people on different days. You are the first to the scene and save a person’s life or just help them out or change their life. Just doing that job keeps you in shape. I’ve met firefighters and they’ve been super nice people.”