COVID-19 shakes up Cepeda’s softball plans

Alexa Cepeda smiles as she walks off the field after McNary defeated North Medford 5-4 in the first round of the 2019 OSAA Playoffs. Cepeda will be playing at Portland State in 2021, but it’s likely that she will miss her senior season due to the coronavirus (File).

It was a highlight year for McNary softball player Alexa Cepeda in 2019.

In her junior season, Cepeda was named first-team all-state thanks to batting .495, with 48 runs scored, 10 doubles and having an on-base percentage of .560.

In November, Cepeda also signed on to continue her softball career at Portland State University.

But as she was gearing up for the 2020 season, the spread of the COVID-19 virus turned Cepeda’s plans upside down. 

On March 12, Cepeda was traveling to Florida to try out for the Puerto Rico Junior Olympic Team, but when her flight landed, she was informed that the tryout had been canceled due to the coronavirus. 

The following day, the OSAA announced that they were suspending interscholastic practices and contests for sports and activities for all member schools until March 31 — which has since been moved to April 28. 

“My world just exploded. Nobody could have ever prepared for this,” Cepeda said. “I had big goals for my senior year and plans of playing for the Puerto Rican Junior National Team, and they all came crashing down.”

Cepeda and the McNary softball team came into the 2020 season with a lot to look forward too. 

In 2019, the Celtics won 13 of their last 15 games of the season and won the 2019 Mountain Valley Conference title. McNary returned eight of the nine starters from last year’s team, as well as a slew of freshman that would compete for playing time.

But as it stands now, it’s safe to assume that there likely won’t be a spring sports season this year.

“My heart is breaking for Alexa. She is an exceptional young lady who is super talented and smart and she sets an example for this team both on and off the field,” said McNary head coach Kevin Wise. 

Through the hard times and uncertainty that the COVID-19 virus has brought, Cepeda appreciates that her high school coach is always there for her.

“Coach Wise and his wife, Deb, have shown the biggest support for me personally, as well as the team as a whole. It’s great to be reminded that I’m not in this alone,” Cepeda said. 

For the last two years, Cepeda has gotten the chance to play with Nadia Witt and Faith Danner, a pair of senior leaders for McNary that have since gone on to play college softball.

While Cepeda has played with a quiet confidence for the first three years of her career, she was looking forward to being a more vocal presence this year and stepping into a leadership role as the only senior on the McNary team. 

“I wanted to be the best leader I could be for the underclassmen. I was really looking forward to doing that and helping some of our younger girls learn,” Cepeda said. 

Wise added: “She has everything it takes to be a leader. Our girls really look up to her.”

Even if she doesn’t get to compete in her senior season, Cepeda has still had a decorated prep career.

Cepeda made the varsity team as a freshman in 2017 and helped the Celtics win a league title and reach the quarterfinals. In 2018, she led the team in runs scored and stolen bases while receiving an honorable mention all-league nod. 

However, the accomplishment she is most proud of is receiving first-team all-state recognition last season.

“I felt like I got a lot better from my sophomore year to my junior year, and it really showed on the field,” Cepeda said. 

In Cepeda’s last home game as a Celtic, McNary was down 4-2 in the bottom of the sixth in their first round playoff game against North Medford. With the bases loaded and two outs, Cepeda laced a 3-2 pitch into left-center field for a bases-clearing double, which brought in the go-ahead score and allowed the Celtics to advance with a 5-4 victory.

“It felt awesome. I love being there for my team and I love that I was the one to be in that position to help us pull it off,” Cepeda said.

Wise believes that the success that Cepeda had last year will continue when she gets to college. 

“I don’t know what PSU will have coming back, but based on Alexa’s talent and work ethic, I believe she will compete for a starting role,” Wise said. 

Wise says that this McNary team is a tight-knit group that has been able to have weekly meetings through Zoom. Cepeda is just hoping that by the time May comes, she will be able to connect with her teammates in person. 

“I would be so excited. It would mean the absolute world to me,” Cepeda said about being able to play an abbreviated senior season. “But no matter what happens, I will never take the game for granted again. You just never know when your time is up.”