COLUMBIA — Players form a circle in front of the dugout; everyone is clapping and cheering. Then, the cheers stop. Valerie Teter pretends to pull something out of her pocket, then she throws it to Kristin Eiken.
Eiken, using only her hands, traces the path of the mysterious object up her left arm, around her shoulders, then down her right arm. She then tosses it in the air and everyone looks up ... someone has to catch it next.
Everyone is laughing in the circle, and after everyone gets a chance to do their own dance with the object, the team comes together for one final cheer.
"One, two, three, Cougars!"
The Columbia College softball team has a unique way of getting ready to play. The Cougars (29-14, 13-3), which beat Hannibal-LaGrange twice on Friday to advance to the semifinals of the American Midwest Conference Tournament, are set to play a doubleheader against William Woods (26-20, 8-8) on Tuesday in Columbia. The first game will start at 2 p.m. If teams split the two games, a deciding third game will be played at 2 p.m. on Wednesday to see who goes to the final.
“It’s a new thing that started this year,” senior Kensie Cavanah said about the pregame ritual. “At the beginning we had a whole bunch of ideas on what to do, but now that we’re near the end of the season we’re running out.”
Cavanah has juked, jived and done jigs all season in that circle, but a particularly memorable move stuck with her teammate, Marli Hayes.
“She’ll swallow it and then she’ll pull it out of her ears,” Hayes said with a laugh. “Kensie … she does some crazy stuff.”
Hayes is not really sure what the imaginary object is, but she does know that she likes the team's new tradition. Cavanah said the ritual really fits the personality of the team, and Cougars coach Wendy Spratt agrees.
“They’re funny,” Spratt said. “They know when to have fun. You can just tell if you watch them.”
Other people have taken notice of the Cougars' attitude.
“I’ll have coaches and umpires come up to me and say ‘I really like how your team plays, and I like how they’re always smiling,’” Spratt said.
Cavanah said because the Cougars go through fielding drills for an hour and a half before the game, the five-minute circle right before the start of play gives them a chance to loosen up and get focused. Hayes agreed that the circle is more than just a fun ritual.
“When I’m nervous I’ll pull a funny stunt,” Hayes said. “It makes it easy to get focused on the game.”
The Cougars will need to be focused if they want to keep their conference title hopes alive. Despite the two wins the Cougars hold over William Woods during the regular season, the team is not overlooking the Eagles in the semifinals.
“They’re a very good team and they are going to give us their best shot,” Spratt said.
But the Cougars will not worry about past games while they are in the circle. They will only be focused on each other, just to see who pulls off a new move.
“When we’re done with the circle, it’s go time,” Cavanah said. “Or as I like to say, it’s time to rock and roll.”