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Senior stories: Peyton Cushner leads ‘unique’ trio for Mead softball

UPDATED: Wed., May 6, 2020

Mead softball coach Tiffany Casedy was excited for the 2020 season. On top of their play on the field, she has grown to really admire her three seniors – one standout and two coming into their own.

Returning All-Greater Spokane League infielder Peyton Cushner was primed for her senior season before joining her new team at Pacific Lutheran, while Alyssa Rodriguez and Grace Smith were ready for folks to take notice.

“It’s been awesome to watch all three of my seniors grow from sophomore year on,” the third-year coach said. “This is my first class where I feel like I’ve gotten to know them from young, and it’s been fun to watch them grow.”

Cushner, a 4.0 student, was slated to be the team’s cleanup hitter. The other two were to start for the first time.

“This was going to be the first year for people to finally see them because we had such a big group of seniors last year,” Casedy said.

“This class is a very special class in the way that they’ve handled this situation,” Casedy said. “It’s been amazing to me as a coach to see their leadership.

“They are very much about the team – all three of them.”

“It hurts a lot more than you think,” Cushner said of the shutdown. “Not only my softball season, but my last year to spend with my friends and teachers and coaches and even just my family before we move to college or wherever.”

Cushner played varsity all four years and was one of the leaders as a sophomore on the team that won the fall slowpitch state title in 2017 – the first title in the state for the sport since it was reintroduced in 2005.

“She has become a leader on our team in all the right ways,” Casedy said. “She’s a big part of our lineup and of who we are at Mead softball. We will definitely miss her presence on the field.”

Cushner will miss the team bonding on bus rides all over Eastern Washington, but she is excited to get to PLU.

“When I visited, I knew right away that that was where I’m supposed to be,” she said. “They have an old-school coaching way which I’m used to, because my dad coached me for a long time and he’s really old school.”

Rodriguez has played second, outfield and catcher. Smith was slated to play second and third this season, depending on the day’s pitcher.

“Grace is my quiet leader,” Casedy said, lauding her versatility. “She’s super humble. She just leads in a way that everybody on the team just really adores her.”

In addition to softball, Rodriguez was on the cheer squad and participated in ASB and drama, which she hopes to study at Western Washington next year.

With all she has going on, it’s hard to imagine when she sleeps or studies.

“I guess I don’t really,” she said. “But I do OK, I guess. I have to be very good with time management, that’s for sure.”

Rodriguez was also part of Mead’s “Link Crew,” a group of seniors and juniors that welcomes new students as part of Mead’s “You Belong” campaign.

“She is the whole joy and spirit of our team,” Casedy said.

During slowpitch in the fall, Rodriguez would sometimes have to leave softball practice early on Friday’s to catch the bus to an away football game.

“I’ve always been a pretty bubbly person, which is the reason I joined cheer,” Rodriguez said. “And so I really got into the environment of cheerleading, and so I just kind of brought that to softball with me because it kind of became like a part of who I am.”

“This group has really become a family,” Casedy said.

“It was going to be a really, really fun year for me as a coach. They wanted it, but in such a positive, fun way.”

Breaking though: Eric Liu has placed at the State 4A tennis tournament each of his three previous seasons. He’ll never know if this was his year to take the top spot on the podium.

As a freshman, Liu and his brother Edward – then a junior – placed second in boys doubles. The next season, the pair was bounced in the second round by the eventual state champs and earned seventh place.

Last year, with new partner Kyle Kuka, the pair fell in the first round but battled back to take fifth place.

But tennis doesn’t define Liu.

“Eric is so incredibly unique, as both a person, and as an athlete,” said first-year head coach Bryce Borland, who was an assistant at Mead for the past several seasons.

Liu has been a four-year mathlete, participating in state competitions, and plays in the orchestra.

“He just competes in everything that he does,” Borland said, “and what sets him apart is how humble he is.”

This was the year Liu, along with Kuka, would break through, Borland thought. Even though the pair put in a lot of hours in the offseason, as team captains they went out of their way to make younger players on the team feel welcome.

“They were pulling (sophomores) in, they were validating them, running them through drills, hitting with them and helping guide these young players,” Borland said.

“So even as the senior year is seen as the ‘selfish year’ where it’s, ‘I’m going to do my best to succeed,’ they spent more time focused on other players than they did themselves.”

Mead senior roll call

Baseball: Dylan Jenkins, Ashton Strobel, Joshua Fritz, Corbin Hansen, Masen Johnson, Dylan Jordan, Ethyn Killinger, Caleb Moore, Dylan Olson, Devon Sands, Hunter Ford. Softball: Peyton Cushner, Alyssa Rodriguez, Grace Smith. Boys soccer: Eli Eldridge, Kaden Evans, Max Rice, Nick Ridgely, Brandon Shoff, Noah Taigen, Michael Niggemeyer, Isaac Teo, Ignacio Isorna, William Lindkvist. Boys tennis: Kyle Kuka, Eric Liu, Justen Liu, Benjamin Maple, Drew Niska, Regis Thola, Nathan Tullis, Caleb Wallace, Trevor Butz. Girls tennis: Blocker Ashley, Emily Erickson, Mackenzie Fillmore, Allie Flynn, Anjali Gunning, Carley Menner, Phoebe Milatz, Clara Singley, Kaylin Woods. Boys golf: Nate Cox, Matt Jones, Raider LaVigne, Jordan Mulder, Thomas McShane. Girls Golf: Aubrey Alley, Sydnie Anderson, Allison Bybee, Avery Elam, Sofia Faldutti, Hannah Hardy, Ashley Raap, Ciarra Shaffer, Annaka Tibbits. Boys track: Elliot Williams, Evan Wiersma, Allen Truong, Cameron Pierre, Brayden Perrins, AJ Paulson, Dylan Pascua. Nicholas Nelson, Cayden Miller, Caleb Lloyd, Calvin Lindsey, Ethan Kargol, Connor Jones, Thomas Henneberg, William Greiner, Eli Gilbert, Benjamin Gallaway, Carson Fuchs, Ayden Eggleston, Jack Dean, Ashton Chamberlain, Jordan Casady, Chris Brewington, Kolby Blackler, Jamison Baier, Joshua Allen. Girls track: Entegra Beck, Emily Mattson, Ashley Rose, Jadyn Schulte, Tabitha Sotelo, Aubrey Springer, Willow Temple, Faith Tobiason, Alyssa Toone, Kokoro Uechi, Sierra Walker, Jolene Wood.

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