Lexy Sanders knows better than most that the life you’re accustomed to can turn in an instant.
Now a senior at Saint Francis, Sanders battled cancer when still a high school student at Western. She’s been through injury and illness, along with sporting success, and it all led her to this spring, her final season with the Cougars’ softball squad.
Sanders is going through Saint Francis in three-and-a-half years, so she was a senior pitcher this spring, her third year of softball. The Cougars got through their slate of 15 pre-conference games and were about to embark on a slate of 36 straight games in the Crossroads League when the spring season came to a halt. The NAIA canceled the remainder of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Sanders’ last season slipped away.
“Getting a feel for the team and finally being able to step on the field again from last year’s season was so refreshing and exciting and I was more prepared than ever for the next games to come,” Sanders said. “Therefore, having been able to play a few games before our actual season started made things much harder when the team found out our season was canceled.
“However, I am very thankful I had the opportunity to play in these last 15 games. One hint of advice I would say that can be applied to sports, school, health or everyday life would be to ‘cherish every moment you have, because you never know when it will be your last.’”
Sanders’ last on-field action was March 7 against Hannibal-LaGrange University in Kissimmee, Florida. She started and threw six innings with one earned run — her best outing of the season — as the Cougars and HGU battled into extra innings. Saint Francis ended up winning 8-6. It’s a game she’ll have to cherish, because it turned out to be her last outing.
Sanders talked to the Tribune about what she’s gone through and what she’s enjoyed in her time at Saint Francis.
Q: Obviously, the decision to cancel spring sports had to have hit hard. What are your thoughts for your team and for yourself?
A: Throughout the last few years at the University of Saint Francis, my teammates have become more than just girls I had the opportunity to play collegiate ball with — they became friends and even my family away from home. It breaks my heart because the team, and especially myself, worked extremely hard for a season that we would never see. It was so unexpected and sudden. I’ve just now, almost two months later, have come to terms with the idea of never playing fast pitch competitively again.
For the last five years, I have faced more adversity than most people my age. From battling cancer at age 15, to having gallbladder surgery, and then most recently coming off a knee surgery, I haven’t had the most playing time at the collegiate level, unfortunately. However, the negative circumstances I consistently face have only taught me how to work harder and to never give up on the goals I have set for myself. Although my softball playing career at USF is over, I still have made some incredible memories and have had amazing opportunities that I will cherish forever.
Q: What were your goals this season and did you feel prepared to chase the goals?
A: So many goals were set for this 2020 spring softball season. I was unable to play last season due to a knee injury and surgery. All 2019 season, I worked with my trainer and physical therapist at school to get stronger in hopes that I would be able to play; however, I wasn’t as fortunate. Having found another physical therapist when I returned home for the summer, I had therapy three times a week — which seemed to be one of the hardest things I have ever done — as I was pushed emotionally, mentally and physically. A huge shoutout to Ivy Rehab and all of the amazing people that worked with me and pushed me, even when I did not want to push myself. My overall goal was to be able to return back to school for my 2020 season, stronger than ever, which I believe I accomplished.
Some other goals that the team had would have been having a winning season, getting in to the national tournament and just having fun together.
Q: What are the experiences you missed the most from not playing this spring?
A: I have missed so many things from not playing this spring. No. 1, I miss my teammates and seeing them every single day. It’s hard to return home for the summer and not be able to see any of the girls, especially since we are mostly scattered across the entire state of Indiana. I miss stepping on the field. I miss playing competitively with other teams. I miss the bus rides and the pictures, but lastly I miss all the memories that were never able to be experienced. Softball has been a huge part of my life ever since I was a little girl. It’s been very hard and such a shock to me with how this 2020 season has come to an end.
Q: What’s your favorite memory from playing at Saint Francis?
A: So many amazing memories I cherish from playing at USF. Competitively, my favorite memory would have to be playing against the Purdue University softball team. Their field was amazing and they seem to have such a great program. Outside of actually playing, bus rides and being able to grow closer with my teammates were my favorite.
Q: Who are some of your biggest athletic influences and how have they helped shape you?
A: Throughout my years of playing softball, I have had many amazing coaches and influencers. However, the two main coaches that really pushed me would be Mike Clark and Jim Clouse. These two men are some of the best men I have ever met. Their hearts are genuine and selfless and they truly wanted me and pushed me to be the best I could be. When things got tough for me health wise, they stuck by my side. These two men were more than just coaches, now they are family. I appreciate everything they have ever done for me on the field and off.
Lastly, my family has been some of my biggest motivators. Traveling with me for my tournaments, all the money spent on hotels and equipment, and everything else that goes along with being an athlete. They not only have shaped me into an athlete, but they have helped mold me as well into the woman I am today.
Q: Does Saint Francis have a primary rival? If so what about that rivalry makes games intense or fun?
A: I would say that the team’s primary rival would have been Marian University. Marian’s softball team is amazing, as they are filled with very talented girls and coaching staff. They always show up to games ready to play and ready to win, just as my team did. Being able to play against an amazing team like Marian really allowed us to see our true talent as a team.
Q: What lessons have you taken from playing in college?
A: So many lessons have been learned and taken from my college playing experience. Working hard has always been something I have made a priority; however, I definitely had to push myself in several situations at USF to work harder than I ever have before, in the classroom and on the softball field. Time management has also been another lesson learned, as we are individually responsible for our own self. I have learned to cherish every moment. Lastly, I have learned that softball is so much more than a sport … it is a way of life, what brings me joy, and what has helped shape me into the person I am today.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: As of right now, I am graduating in December with my Bachelor’s of Science in nursing degree. I have big plans to work at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis as a pediatric nurse, hopefully in the oncology department soon after graduation. I will work for a few months and then will be returning back to school to get my nurse practitioner degree. So many exciting things ahead of me. I also plan on coaching a team somewhere also, whether that be a travel team or a high school team.