The Indiana University softball team had just defeated Toledo 3-0 in Madeira Beach, Fla., on March 12 when the players gathered and awaited the postgame talk from coach Shonda Stanton.
The wait was unusually long. Josie Wood saw out of the corner of her eye that the huddled coaching staff seemed to be emotional. And then they started to talking to some of the players’ parents.
This was weird. The players already knew that the Big Ten had barred fans from attending games.
And then Wood, a redshirt senior left-handed pitcher and 2015 North Miami grad, found out why Stanton and her coaches were so emotional: The NCAA had canceled the rest of their season and all other spring sports due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“As soon as she told us, everybody kind of just froze, and tears were falling,” Wood said. “It was unbelievable. ... It really sucked not knowing it was our last game.”
The cancellation meant that Wood had to make another decision on whether to pursue another year of eligibility if given one.
Though the NCAA announced late Monday that all spring sports athletes would be given an extra year of eligibility, she has decided against it, telling The Sentinel in a phone interview last week that her career is over.
“The opportunity was given to us if we wanted to take another year,” Wood said. “So they asked us about that. For me, I have other future plans currently, so I’m not planning on taking that sixth year,” Wood said.
A two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, Wood is an exercise science major. Her dream job is to become a physical therapist. South University, located in Tampa, Fla., has accepted her into their grad school program where she can become a certified physical therapist’s assistant. She said she has friends and family in the Tampa area.
“I’m planning on going to grad school in the fall,” Wood said. “So I want to go to school in Tampa, Fla. But if that doesn’t work, then I’ll just be back at home probably, still taking classes.”
‘Hard to take’
Wood said the most frustrating part of the cancellation was how she was pitching. In a 5-1 win over South Dakota in a tournament in Tucson, Ariz., on March 6, Wood pitched her first complete game since 2016, when she went 13-9 as a freshman. The following day, she pitched four scoreless innings and beat South Dakota again.
“That was the hardest part for me was that I was coming back and pitching pretty well, better than I had in the other seasons for the preseason,” Wood said. “So I felt really good and had a lot of confidence. So having that drastic ending to my career like that ... That hurt honestly. It was really hard to take.”
Wood missed the 2017 season due to a torn ACL and got a medical redshirt that gave her the opportunity to come back for 2020. The injury changed her perspective on the game.
Following the 2017 season, IU athletics director Fred Glass fired coach Michelle Gardner and replaced her with Shonda Stanton, who had spent the previous 17 seasons at Marshall University. So in addition to rehabbing her injury, the coach who had recruited her was now gone.
“I would just say all around my mentality for the game changed over the years,” Wood said. “I think going through my injury played a factor as far as appreciating the game more and being able to play. I think even when we got our new coaches in, there was something in my head that I was just, like, oh, do I still love softball? There were questions in my head that I was like, I don’t know. But the coaches put a fire under me.”
She said going through her own rehab process with her knee made her more interested in physical therapy.
“I was debating on nursing school and other things, but once I went through that, I was like, Oh, I would love to help other athletes or other people in general,” Wood said.
She said she is especially interested in geriatrics.
“I have a soft heart for the elderly,” Wood said.
Retirement and comeback
Wood eventually decided to end her career following the 2019 season. In fact, she was so certain that she announced on her Facebook page that she was ending her career, and she didn’t practice with the team all fall. She even got a job at a physical therapy center as an aide, ready to begin her post-playing career.
But when one of the other pitchers suffered an injury over the winter, the coaching staff contacted her, and her teammate and roommate Emily Goodin encouraged her to come back.
“I realized how much I missed it, and when the opportunity came for me to come back at the end of January or beginning of February, I didn’t think twice about it,” Wood said.
It’s been six years since Wood helped lead the North Miami softball team to the Class 1A state title. Wood went 43-4 with 644 strikeouts in the 2014 and 2015 seasons combined. Her ERA was 0.23 in 2014 and 0.14 in 2015. She also hit .629 with 16 home runs in 2014. In the 2014 state title game, a 3-1 win in 10 innings over North Daviess, she doubled her first time up and was intentionally walked the next four times up, including three times with the bases empty.
“That’s actually crazy,” Wood said. “I can’t believe it’s been that long ago. ... I think I have a better appreciation of it. I think when you’re going through it as a teenager, once you’re recruited, you’re like, OK, I made it, now what? ... I think over the years I’ve realized in the end all those practices and all those workouts and all those days of travel, missing high school events because I had to go to travel ball on the weekends, I think all of that just played a toll throughout my career of do I even like playing softball anymore.
“But in the end, I am so appreciative of it. I don’t think I would change anything, and it’s definitely shaped me into the person I am today. I don’t think I would have the confidence or all the memories I’ve had over the years. I wouldn’t have had all those moments if it weren’t for softball.”
Time at home
Wood has been home in Denver since March 20. She’s gotten to meet her seven-month-old niece Ellie, the daughter of her sister Sammi and her brother-in-law Jake. She said she hasn’t been home for longer than a weekend in years.
“It’s nice, but I like being at school,” Wood said. “It’s a good time, spending it with my parents.”
Online classes began Monday.
As for softball, she still hopes to help others who want to pitch as a side job.
“But I also do have a desire for coaching pitching,” Wood said. “I still think that’s something I’m going to carry on and be able to the rest of my life.”