Mt. Assisi Academy students departed school for the final time last Friday.
One day later, the Screeching Eagles’ athletic existence ceased as well.
When Mt. Assisi was unable to complete a comeback against Chicago Christian in a Class 2A regional championship softball game on Saturday at Trinity Christian College, all that was left were the memories and plenty of tears.
The Lady Knights lived to play another day this spring, but the Eagles are done. Mt. Assisi has closed its doors and the underclassmen among its student body need to find new school homes in the fall.
So when the Eagles’ 11-7 loss became official, the crying began in earnest. And what made Mt. Assisi’s demise more painful for its athletes was that the school had enjoyed unprecedented across-the-board sports success in its final year of existence.
During the 2013-14 school year, the Eagles won a first-ever regional title in golf, their first volleyball regional crown in five years, a Girls Catholic Athletic Conference White soccer championship and a second straight regional title in basketball.
The softball team couldn’t match that string of achievements, which perhaps made the sense of melancholy even more acute.
“It’s really bittersweet, especially for the underclassmen,” said senior Terri Dearth, who will be playing basketball and softball at Southwestern Illinois College next season. “They had an opportunity of a lifetime to go out with a bang and I honestly feel that, pride-wise, we knocked it out of the park.
“Since we found out the school was closing, all of the teams went out with a bang. Even though we didn’t win [Saturday], I have faith that [the underclassmen] will go on and do big things at their new schools.”
The news of Mt. Assisi’s closing broke on a night in late January -- right as the basketball team was nearing the postseason.
“I remember the first thing that my [basketball] coach said was we want to make this the season to remember,” said senior Sabrina Miller, who also played shortstop this spring and will continue her softball career at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville next season. “I think that’s the same theme that [the softball squad] wanted to go with this season.”
While the softball campaign didn’t end the way the Eagles hoped, coach Jill Harvey said the perseverance and pride she saw from her girls throughout the season was “simply amazing.”
According to Mt. Assisi athletic director June VerSchave, the most popular landing spot among student-athletes is Queen of Peace, while other destinations include Marist, Mother McAuley, Nazareth Academy and Marian Catholic.
While each of the non-graduating Eagles realize they won’t be donning a Mt. Assisi jersey during the 2014-15 school year, their decisions about where to finish their prep careers no doubt create a strange sensation. After all, they rejected other schools in favor of Mt. Assisi when graduating 8th grade.
“It was really hard in the beginning,” junior Maddie Cahue said of learning about the closure. “I spent a lot of time just not knowing [where to go next], but I knew that I had to figure it out because it’s important.
“There are a lot of factors that played into it. It was definitely a tough decision, and not just for me but for everyone.”
Cahue and Kylie Maloy were the lone juniors on the Eagles’ roster and will have to start anew in 2015. Cahue plans to enroll at Nazareth, Maloy at Queen of Peace, and both girls will try to adapt quickly to fresh surroundings.
“I’m hoping that I can go in there and show them how good a player I am,” Maloy said. “I hope that I can make it a good last year for me. Hopefully, I’ll make an impact and have a good first year at the new high school.
“It’s going to be really hard playing for [the Pride] next year, but I know I’ll always be an Eagle at heart.”
Even though Miller is headed to college, she said Mt. Assisi’s absence still leaves her with an empty feeling.
“I know that when college is getting rough and when the coach is getting down on me, I’m not going to be able to come back to my high school,” Miller said. “It’s just a really difficult situation when you don’t have a home anymore. I’m not going to be able to come back and talk with all my old teachers and all my old friends.
“It’s just different that I’m not going to be able to come back to that, but at the same time I’m not going to lose them. I’m [still] going to be able to contact them.”