As a kid, senior Mustang first baseman Krysten Cary watched Division-I softball teams on television. She watched girls compete in a sport that she loved and promised herself that one day she would walk across a Division-I field, just like them. Years later, after a scholarship offer from Cal Poly, she got her chance.
“When I was younger, I watched teams like UCLA, Texas and Oregon — all those big name teams on TV — and I told myself I wanted to be like that,” Cary said. “When it actually became real, it was almost surreal being in that situation.”
Now, after three years of wearing a green and gold uniform, Cary — along with seniors Sara Kryza and Helen Peña — will play her final series at Bob Janssen Field this weekend in a three-game conference series against UC Davis (22-25, 11-4 Big West).
The emotions will be hard to hold back.
“I’m trying not to think about it,” Kryza said. “I think that every girl who plays softball in high school, their dream is to go to a Division-I school. It was definitely a dream of mine … It’s going to be a really emotionally-powered series — at least for (Peña), (Cary) and I … It’s a big deal.”
Cary came into her career at Cal Poly with no expectations. She had no idea what kind of player she would be molded into, but it didn’t show her freshman year. In her first year playing, she started all 56 games, hitting .282 with five home runs and was honored as a Big West Freshman Co-Field Player of the Year. In her junior season, Cary raised her home run total to 14 and boasted a .592 slugging percentage. Even if you took all the numbers away, her stay at Cal Poly has been rewarding, she said.
“Within the last four years, I have learned a lot of qualities to take out into the real world,” Cary said. “I can only thank my teammates and my coaches for teaching me those things … I really, honestly thank them for giving me this opportunity to play at Cal Poly,” Cary said.
Peña defined this upcoming weekend as “bittersweet.”
“It’s sweet in the sense that I have accomplished a lot for this program, and I have made a lot of friends and memories,” Peña said. “But it is also going to be sad to know that I am not going to be playing between those lines ever again.”
Peña tallied a third-best 1.75 ERA in conference play as a freshman. As a sophomore, she allowed the fewest home runs of any Big West pitcher. In her junior year, she earned a 1.49 ERA — second-lowest in the Big West.
“I’ve had so much fun here,” Peña said. “I’ve learned a lot on and off the field.”
As for Kryza, she has never received much spotlight. After receiving multiple offers from different campuses across the nation, she decided to walk on the Cal Poly softball team.
“My dad was trying to get me to go here, and it was strictly the ‘Oh, my dad wants me to go here; I don’t want to go here.’” Kryza said. “But then I came up for a visit before I applied; it was just beautiful — 10 minutes from the beach — pretty, hilly campus, awesome softball complex and the academic reputation is prestigious as well.”
With her decision, she had to play a different role on the field than she was used to. On past softball teams she was a leader, a team captain named to All-Southwestern League second team twice when she played at Vista High School. But at Cal Poly, she played more of a reserve role, only seeing the diamond in 15 games her freshman year. As the years went on, Kryza’s playing time didn’t raise with experience.
“Being able to make the most out of every opportunity I’d get, I think was a big thing for me,” Kryza said. “Not being a starter for my first three years, it was huge for me as a player to know that I was still contributing and I was making the most of the opportunity I was given.”
But, Kryza didn’t petition for more playing time. She kept her chin up and began to learn that no matter where she was on the field, she could help her team.
“It’s really easy to feel like you’re not contributing just because you’re not playing,” Kryza said. “I think that was one of the biggest things that I have learned here: Every person on the team contributes no matter whether they are playing or not. It takes 15 people to win or lose a ball game — but only nine are on the field.”
Kryza, Peña and Cary will square off against the conference-leading Aggies, with a chance to nab the Big West championship with a series win.
“We were conference champions last year — and I can probably speak for (Peña) and Kryza as well — we just want to keep that championship in our hands,” Cary said. “Just doing whatever we needed to do to hold onto that trophy — that (is) my goal.”
Last weekend, the Mustangs were in a similar spot. Heading into the tournament, the Mustangs had a one-game lead atop the Big West, but after suffering two losses in their two-game series, Cal Poly coughed up its lead to UC Davis — who swept UC Riverside. A poor memory is the key to bouncing back this weekend.
“We just don’t think about it,” Cary said. “That series is over with. We know what happened, we just didn’t make the adjustments for the first two games, but at this point, the first two games of the series is over and we just have to move on to Davis … play our game. “
But postseason scenarios aside, the emotions will still be high this weekend. For the three seniors, it will mark the end of their collegiate careers — maybe the end of their softball careers as a whole.
“After this weekend, the next time I come to a softball game I’ll be in the stands,” Kryza said. “I just think that as long as we do what we do best, and play Cal Poly softball, it will at least be a good weekend.”
First pitch is set for Saturday at 12 p.m.