Jessie Atkinson is Christopher Newport softball's leader, voice and All-America third baseman. She owns the Captains' career records for home runs and RBIs, and the school is retiring her No. 16 jersey.
So who better to assess a landmark season that ended Tuesday with a 6-2 loss to top-ranked Linfield in the NCAA Division III national championship game?
"A this point, there's really not much you can say," Atkinson said, her voice catching, eyes welling. "I've never played with a group of girls that I cared about so much and got along with so well."
The Captains' bond, their faith in one another, carried them on an improbable and unforgettable journey.
They won seven consecutive NCAA tournament games, most in come-from-behind fashion. They came within one victory of the program's first national title.
If Jennifer Falin wasn't hitting a clutch home run, Ashley Mani was scaling the center-field fence to make a catch and save a game. If Atkinson wasn't back-handing a ball at third, Whitney Haller or Krista Townsend was dominating on the mound.
"I'm shocked that we're here," said Falin, a junior second baseman from Bruton High who made the all-tournament team. "I'm shocked that we won (NCAA) regionals. I'm shocked that we won (USA South Conference) regular season."
The Captains' lone seniors are Atkinson, first baseman Lauren Rowley and Mani. Four freshmen — shortstop Candice Zollars, left fielder Kelly Foate, right fielder Kristina McLaughlin and designated player Taylor Dillow — emerged as starters.
Keith Parr, a CNU and Kecoughtan High graduate, meshed that youth and talent, and CNU became a formidable outfit.
The whims of postseason? Look no farther than Shoe Lane.
CNU's baseball team entered the NCAA tournament atop the national polls and 39-5, only to lose its first two games by a combined 20-4.
Conversely, Parr's bunch lost twice to Shenandoah in the USA South tournament and headed to the NCAAs unranked and unlikely to return to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive year — CNU finished fourth last year.
Yet only an honest-to-goodness juggernaut stopped CNU (38-12).
Linfield (51-3) set NCAA Division III single-season records for wins and home runs (103). Moreover, the Wildcats led the nation in scoring, slugging and batting average.
But it was their pitching that denied the Captains their first NCAA softball championship. No real surprise. The stunningly balanced Wildcats also rank among Division III's top 20 in ERA and fielding percentage, and they torched their first five NCAA tournament opponents by a combined 59-0.
Offense, defense, pitching: Is their anything at which Linfield doesn't excel?
Well, in the nine statistical categories charted by the NCAA, the Wildcats are outside the top 30 in only stolen bases (140th) and triples (149th).
Translation: They're a load. Or, as Parr said, "Linfield's like no other team."
The Captains faced the Wildcats twice in as many days, needing to win just one. They fell Monday 6-0 and in the two games managed just one extra-base hit — McLaughlin's seventh-inning double Tuesday.
A one-hour lightning delay interrupted Tuesday's sixth inning with the teams knotted 2-all. But after play resumed, Linfield scored four runs, the first on Karleigh Prestianni's wind-aided homer to right off Townsend, the last two on Lepp's single to left off reliever Elizabeth Holte.
Five errors that led to four unearned runs hurt CNU, but truth be told, the better team prevailed. The Captains' best chance to take the lead and pressure the Wildcats went begging in the fifth when they scored just once after loading the bases with none out.
"We put the pedal down and did everything we could," Parr said, "and left it all out on the field."
With such a young roster, CNU certainly is capable of copying Linfield, which won this national championship a year after losing in the title contest.
"I definitely think we can do it again," Falin said. "But it's not going to be handed to us."
Atkinson will not be there in uniform, but she will in spirit. As her teammates watched her on the interview podium, Atkinson said, "I'm going to miss y'all."