SALEM — Standing in front a huddle of Turner Ashby players, Makayla Cyzick listened as the Virginia High School League officials announced the Knights as this year’s Class 3 runners-up.
A few moments later, the public address announcer began calling individual players to come to the field to accept a second-place medal.
But as he called TA freshman Makenzie Cyzick, she remained seated with her head in her shirt and tears in her eyes, disappointed by the finish to her first season on varsity.
“They are always keeping us up and making sure everybody was relaxed,” Makenzie Cyzick said. “Even if you do make a mistake, they always reminded us that we still had it.”
On Friday, following the Knights’ 4-1 loss to Liberty-Bedford in the VHSL Class 3 softball championship at the Moyers Complex in Salem, Makayla Cyzick — one of three seniors on TA’s roster and the older sister of Makenzie — wouldn’t let her sibling hang her head.
Instead, she insisted her sister get up and accept the medal.
Once she returned to the huddle, she embraced her with a hug as the two both let the effects of a tough loss show through the emotion on their faces.
“They helped so much,” Makenzie Cyzick said. “They always told us what we needed to do and just tried to encourage us the best they could. Just don’t get down on yourself, always stay up. Be confident and play together. That’s all key.”
There’s no denying how much the Knights’ three seniors — Makayla Cyzick, Carley Davis and Ashton Richmond — meant to this year’s team.
Understandably, TA will have a particularly tough time replacing Cyzick, a Winthop signee, in the circle and Davis, who is headed to Elon, behind the plate.
Richmond’s leadership is something that the Knights also continuously praised throughout the year.
All three players, however, said they have full confidence the returning players next season will be able to eventually match their production.
“All of our young girls are so good,” Davis said. “As you can see, we took a young team to states. They’ll have to step up. The younger girls will have to be more vocal, step up and be leaders. That’s all they need to do.”
The Knights had four freshmen — Makenzie Cyzick, Jadin Thomas, Sydney Lyons and Delanie Propst — and four sophomores — Gracie Moyers, Bailey Fulk, Paige Eavers and Lauren Harper — on the roster this season.
Of those eight, five played in Friday’s state championship game.
“They’ve taught me so much,” Moyers said. “Honestly, they’re the greatest seniors you could ask for to have on the team. They’re always there picking you up, always there to help you with anything you ever need. They’re awesome, honestly. They help with everything. From cheering in the dugout to playing on the field, they were there through it all.”
The friendships built between Turner Ashby’s upperclassmen and the newcomers were evident throughout the season, whether it be the sisterly bond between the Cyzicks or the tight-knight friendship between Davis and Moyers shining through at practice. All of the TA players insisted they were like a “family.”
Moyers said having those relationships with the upperclassmen not only helped the younger players grow in their skills, but also build more confidence.
“They are always giving little tips if there is something that needs to be done,” Moyers said. “They pull us into the middle and talk to us when we get discombobulated. They always pull us back together. They’re just great leaders.”
The leadership aspect is what Curry said the younger players will take away the most.
“The younger girls can take away that leadership that Carley, Makayla and Ashton brought and what they provided for this program,” Curry said. “They seen how important that was. They seen how involved with the program they was.
“They already know and I’m 100 percent confident that they will step up and fill that role. We’ll be OK. When you lose Makayla and Carley, that’s a lot, but we can get back. We’ll get there.”
That motivation to get back was already being brought up by some of the underclassmen in the aftermath of Friday’s loss as they mentioned the importance of continuing tradition.
“We’re all going to have to step up,” Moyers said. “We’ve all got to fill big shoes because they were great. We have really, really big shoes to fill.”
“It’s really motivating. We made it this far and hopefully we’ll make it this far again. Hopefully, we’ll win next time. We’ve seen what we can do, know what we can do.”
As she stood outside of the field, with tears still in her eyes, Makenzie Cyzick struggled to put together words for how the season-ending loss left her feeling.
Ultimately, she was able to break through and admit that it left her “hungry” and determined to not make this year’s deep postseason run a one-time occurrence in her varsity career.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Makenzie Cyzick said. “We don’t want to lose here again. We’re going to keep fighting.”
Once the emotions had worn off and Makayla Cyzick thought about the state of the program as she departs it, she couldn’t help but flash a smile at her sister’s thoughts.
The senior leader that Curry called a “bulldog” throughout the Knights’ postseason run said that’s exactly the type of attitude she expects her younger sister and all of the returning TA players to have for years to come.
After all, that’s what they’ve been taught.
“We’ve given them a lot of advice,” Cyzick said. “We tried to step up this year and be leaders and give them advice that they need. I think the future is very bright for them. I think they’ll do amazing next year and they’re just going to keep following in the footsteps that we created.”