For Cheshire High School senior Ella Watson, playing softball has taught her just as many lessons about herself as the sport. In developing her skills, she has been motivated to work harder every day.
“I’ve always loved softball, but my passion has picked up in the last couple of years,” reflected Watson. “(CHS) Coach (Kristine) Drust always says, what you give to the game, it will give back to you. I think about that a lot and it pushes me to keep getting better.”
A hard-work ethic has allowed her to earn an opportunity that she didn’t think possible growing up. Last fall, Watson accepted a Division I scholarship to play softball at Fairfield University.
“It feels amazing,” stated Watson. “It is good to know where I’m going and have a nice future there.”
In starting her recruiting search early, Watson was able to take tours prior to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down colleges last year. She visited Fairfield at the start of her junior year.
“They have a really good nursing program that I’m thinking of going into after graduation,” stated Watson, who also considered Amherst College (Massachusetts), New York University, and Providence College (Rhode Island). “Fairfield has a good balance between athletics and academics.”
Watson looks forward to playing for Head Coach Julie Brzezinski, who has led Fairfield to their only NCAA Tournament appearances, in 2015 and 2017. The Stags won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title in both of those seasons.
“I hope to have a good four years with the team,” stated Watson. “I want to get a good education and see where that takes me.”
“I couldn’t be more excited for her,” said Drust. “Ella is a die-hard athlete who wants to be surrounded by the best. I can’t wait to see her game continue to evolve.”
Drust is proud when her softball players want to compete on the next level. Along with Watson, captain Bri Pearson (Adelphi University-New York), Gracie Hemstock (Western New England University-Massachusetts), Trinadey Santiago (American International College-Massachusetts), and Danielle Floyd (Johnson & Wales University-Rhode Island) from Cheshire’s senior class have committed to college teams .
“We all have the chance to keep playing the sport we love and show what a strong team we have in Cheshire,” explained Watson.
At age 9 or 10, Watson began her career with Cheshire Youth Softball. She joined the Cheshire Flames before playing for her current club team, the Cheshire Wildcats.
“I think it is awesome that I’ve got to play on a lot of good teams with great coaches,” said Watson, an outfielder. “All of my coaches have inspired me to keep going.”
As a sophomore at CHS, Watson worked her way into the lineup and provided clutch hitting off the bench.
“It was a great experience,” stated Watson. “Even though I didn’t have a starting spot, everyone supported me. They were happy that I was there with them.”
In 2019, she helped Cheshire win a third consecutive Hammonasset Division crown. The Rams also captured the Southern Connecticut Conference title with a 3-2 victory over North Haven in eight innings.
“Winning that SCC Championship captured my love for softball,” stated Watson.
Heading into last year, the Rams had made five consecutive Class LL semifinal appearances, but because of the pandemic, Cheshire had their spring season canceled.
“It was really tough not being able to play,” Watson recalled. “Even though we didn’t get on the field, we learned so much through team calls over Zoom and other activities.”
Working out on her own last spring, Watson stayed in shape for the chance to play for the Wildcats in the summer.
“It was awesome to get back on the field,” reflected Watson. “We were excited to play even though we had to wear masks out there.”
Drust feels that Watson is one of Cheshire’s most improved players.
“She has worked tirelessly in the last two years to get better at this game,” stated Drust. “Ella has put herself in a position to be a great player at the next level.”
Watson is appreciative of Drust and Assistant Jaymie Sommers for leading the Rams through the pandemic.
“They push you to be the best you can be,” explained Watson. “Whether it is lifting, doing volunteer work, or practicing with the team, there is always room for improvement.”
While not knowing what the spring season will look like yet, Watson hopes that the Rams can compete for a post-season title.
“We want to play our brand of softball,” stated Watson. “Hopefully, we have a good record and come out on top in games.”
She is currently focused on playing basketball this winter. Watson feels that she has adjusted to playing for Angelica Ariola, who has succeeded Michelle Vieira as Rams head coach.
Vieira led the team for the last four seasons.
“I loved playing for her. She brought out a lot of passion in me and I’m going to miss her, but I like the new coaching staff, too,” explained Watson, who hopes to be a good leader on the team. “I think this is going to be a fun season.”
Due to the pandemic, CHS girls’ basketball has just 12 games in the regular season. While there will be no state tournament, all SCC teams will qualify for playoffs. Cheshire girls will compete in SCC Division II East.
For safety this season, players and coaches are wearing face masks in practices and games.
“I thought that it was tough to play softball in a mask, but it is harder in basketball. The coaching staff does a great job giving us breaks,” said Watson. “Wearing masks is an adjustment, but we all just want the opportunity to play this year.”
As a junior, Watson helped CHS win three of their last four regular-season games to qualify for the Class LL Tournament. This winter, she has returned to join Hailey Beling, Kaylee Clark, Jordan DeMatteo, and Sophie Vagts in a close group of seniors.
“I love all of them,” said Watson. “We hang out in and out of the season.”
While she will extend her career in softball, Watson has enjoyed her experience playing basketball since age 12.
“I like having a couple of sports,” said Watson. “When I’m not playing softball, it is good to have the chance to get better in a different way.”
On Wednesday, Cheshire girls’ basketball opens the season against Mercy at 6 p.m. Ariola will make her head-coaching debut.