Senior Spotlight: Cheyenne Cavanaugh grows with the game
Around the mound she runs, stealing plates in the shade of the game.
Although she is a 2022 Ohio Valley Conference Player to Watch, softball’s Cheyenne Cavanaugh might pass by unnoticed.
The fifth-year senior outfielder brings a lefty swing, a right hand throw and endless humility to the diamond. You won’t hear her making a fuss about recording seven triples in the 2021 season, crowning her the conference leader in the category.
“It’s nice to be recognized, but I think that I need to not think about it,” Cavanaugh said. “I still need to work just as hard in order to prove myself this year as I did last year.”
As long as she recognizes her own efforts, that’s all that matters, she said.
Living and breathing softball since the age of 3, there’s no wonder Cavanaugh exemplifies the adage “practice makes perfect.”
But in a sport where perfection is unattainable, where getting on base three out of ten times is considered good, someone who strives for utmost excellence might struggle.
The game doesn’t come without rewards though, giving its players opportunities to grow around every base.
“If I was having a bad day and went out to hit, I probably wasn’t going to be very successful. So I kind of had to work through whatever emotion and hardship I was dealing with at the time,” Cavanaugh said.
From a young age, Cavanugh worked through emotions with softball motions. The sport was an outlet for anger, sadness and happiness from school or socially, she said
Some outside support and inspiration partly comes from her dad, from whom she inherited her drive for success and eye for detail, and partly from Belmont professor Dr. Marnie Vanden Noven of Belmont’s exercise science program.
Upon Cavanaugh’s sophomore switch to an exercise science major, Vanden Noven brought her out of her comfort zone and helped her to find the right career path.
“I think the most important thing I can do is listen to a student’s full story,” Vanden Noven said. “I try to understand what they want and need now, what their hopes and dreams are for the future, and then discuss how they can most successfully make that happen.”
When Cavanaugh committed to Belmont in her freshman year of high school, it was clear the Spring, Texas, native saw something special in the university.
“Putting other people first; that’s what I think about when I think about Belmont,” Cavanaugh said. “The more time has gone, the more it’s confirmed my decision.”
At this point, she’s grown into the culture and into her role as a leader, guiding and molding the next generation of Bruins.
Putting in the hard work behind the scenes and showcasing her resiliency after missed runs, poor throws and failed batting, Cavanaugh leads by example in a salient effort to leave her mark on the program.
“That’s one of my goals, to leave it better than I found it, to be able to look back in a few years and see the culture that me and my class and the people before me built,” she said.
Throughout her college career, Cavanaugh has had the company of fifth-year softball players Elison Ollinger and Alicia Veltri, and despite the coming and going of teammates and coaches, they have gone and grown through a multitude of changes together.
“Each group of teammates have been so different but yet so caring, that’s something I think I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else besides here, the quality of teammates and people,” Cavanaugh said.
As softball student-athletes, you learn how to handle more than you ever thought you could, she said, which will make the transition to post-play easier.
Next, her path will take her to University of North Texas Health Science Center where she got accepted to the physical therapy program, a stepping stone to pursuing a sports medicine occupation – ideally working in a professional baseball team or running her own practice.
“I think that really hits home,” she said.
From struggling with injuries of her own, including but not limited to a meniscus and a shoulder labral surgery with a hip labral surgery scheduled for postseason, her student-athlete college experience has provided invaluable relatability within the field.
Playing through the pain and breaking some mental barriers have given her a greater appreciation for the ability to move her body, but a perfectionist’s mind will still struggle.
“It’s been hard for me to scale back, especially being my last year and wanting to do everything 110%. It’s been mentally challenging to realize that my body can’t really handle that,” she said.
Actually, the 2022 season is Cavanaugh’s second last year.
After graduating in May 2021 with the mindset of going into a gap year, she received the offer to return for a fifth and final season as a Bruin.
And for the humbling sport of softball — which has taught her many valuable lessons, such as appreciating every single hit — she couldn’t resist.
So the silent softball star strikes again, filling academic space with PT prereqs and enjoying the little moments with her team before placing the cleats on the shelf for an ultimate goodbye.
“It’s a hard realization to come to, that 20 years of my life that I’ve played the sport and it’s kind of all over on one specific day,” Cavanaugh said. “I think it’s gonna be tough, but I think I’ll probably use that to dive into my career and schooling.”
For someone who’s played her sport for two decades, Cavanaugh’s first home run came fairly recently.
She broke the barriers on Apr. 3, 2021, in a 7-3 loss against Eastern Kentucky University. And, in spite of the defeat, her teammates loudly cheered from the dugout as Cavanaugh passed the plate for her first-ever homer.
It goes to show that while perfection is not a requirement for success, hard work and dedication pays off and the presence of quality people makes the experience even more memorable.
PHOTO: No. 20 Cheyenne Cavanaugh gets locked in for a spring 2021 softball game. Jessica Mattsson / Belmont Vision
This article was written by Jessica Mattsson.