NNU Softball

Northwest Nazarene pitcher Rae Young prepares to pitch during the Nighthawks’ NCAA Division II West Regional Tournament game against UC San Diego on May 11, 2018, in Chico, Calif.

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Rae Young had the option to return to the Northwest Nazarene softball team next season.

After a junior season limited by an elbow injury and a senior season shortened by the COVID-19 outbreak, the chance at another year in the circle might have been tempting for many pitchers.

But Young had a plan for what’s next and those plans weren’t about to be postponed.

Instead of coming back for another year, Young plans on beginning her career in law enforcement, entering the California Highway Patrol Academy in June. After graduating from that, the Elk Grove, California, native will spend at least two years on patrol with the California State Police and hopes to one day be on a SWAT unit.

"I knew coming into college I wanted to go into law enforcement,” said Young. “I wasn’t exactly sure which law enforcement agency I wanted to go into at first. But I live in California, and people from the CHP would talk it up to me. Eventually I settled on the CHP.’

Working in the criminal justice system has long been a dream of Young’s, but it wasn't until midway through high school that she really started focusing on law enforcement. Initially she had looked at becoming a prosecutor. But after doing mock trials and talking with a few prosecutors, she began to realize that career would require long hours in an office and a lot of desk work.

“I realized that for me, that’s not something I wanted to do,” said Young. “I’m a very hands on person and I like to go out and about and be around people. So that was a big turnoff to me and I was like ‘I don’t know if I want to be a prosecutor,’ even though I’m very good at arguing.”

By the time she stepped foot on campus as a Criminal Justice major, she knew which direction she wanted to go. She was so passionate about it that even after the NCAA Division II Administrative Council announced that it would give student-athletes from spring sports an extra year of eligibility, Northwest Nazarene coach Rich Wagner knew Young wouldn’t take it, even before talking it over with her.

“It’s common knowledge, everybody knows she’s going to the Academy,” said Wagner, who says he has one senior, Brittany Genuardi, coming back for one more year and another, Madison Strickler, who has yet to make a decision. “She’s super passionate about putting on that uniform and representing and I think that’s why she was such a huge part of our program. She stepped on campus as a NNU Crusader, turned into a Nighthawk, and she had a ton of respect for that shield and logo that we represent. She’s going to do such an outstanding job representing the community that she’s in.”

Wagner said he could count on Young to play just about every position, except “maybe catcher” in her four years at NNU. In addition to being a pitcher, Young has been in the outfield, at first base and at shortstop. But in the circle was where she wanted to be.

But a nerve injury to her right elbow from when she was youngster came back to haunt Young early in her junior season. Unbeknownst to her, because of that injury, the strain she was putting on her elbow while pitching was damaging the growth plate.

She started feeling it in her elbow when the Nighthawks started throwing before the season. She chalked it up to offseason rust. When she started feeling sensations in her ring and pinky fingers, she started thinking it might be something more.

When a pitch went a completely different direction than she intended because of the sensation, she said something. Still, she tried to fight through. But when she came in for her first pitching appearance of the season, during a game against Cal State San Bernardino in Las Vegas, she couldn’t make it through an inning before the pain became unbearable.

“It was the last pitch of the inning, I threw a curveball and I felt this super big shock down my arm,” Young said. “My arm was dropping and swelled up really fast. I ended up having to pull out after that.”

She missed about a month of action and got opinions from several doctors, who all came to the same consensus. Even with the nerve out of place, she could continue to play through the season. But until she had surgery, she would be unable to pitch or throw long distances. That took away pitching and the outfield.

So after being cleared to play again, she finished the season at first base.

Immediately following the season, she had surgery on her elbow and by the time she returned to campus in the fall, she was ready to start throwing again.

She started the season with a 3-0 record with a 2.21 ERA before struggling in her last two starts, both of which were losses.

“There are certain pitches that she’s been working on for three seasons that were finally starting to work really well,” said Wagner. “Once she hit her stride, which was probably going to be in the next week or two when we started playing consistent games again, it would have been really, really fun to see how well she was going to pitch.”

The Nighthawks began their season on Jan. 31, a week and a half after the United State’s first coronavirus case was detected in Washington state. By the time the NBA suspended its season March 11, Northwest Nazarene was 8-8. The next day, the rest of the sports world followed suit, including the GNAC. On March 16, the GNAC canceled all spring sports for the remainder of the school year.

“When they first made the call, they said it would be suspended, so I thought ‘OK, we may have a chance of it being reinstated,’” Young said. “I was hoping to at least play some games, but eventually they started closing the schools and everyone was having to go home. I realized at that point the season was going to be canceled and I was pretty sad about that.”

The decision ended Young’s career, as she already had a date for the exam and physical for the CHP Academy.

“Then having background checks and stuff, I have that all planned out,” Young said. “People were asking ‘are you going to be coming back next year,’ and I was like ‘I can’t, my future is set.’”

She ends her career with a 31-37 record and a 5.35 ERA. And even though her final two seasons may have been derailed in ways that were less than ideal, Young isn’t letting it sour her time at being at Northwest Nazarene.

“When I first came here I was the one lone Californian,” Young said. “I didn't really know anybody, so it was good to make a bunch of new friends, become great friends with all my teammates and all the other athletes and students around the school. It was such a great atmosphere that I really enjoyed my four years.”

John Wustrow is the assistant sports editor of the Idaho Press. He is a Michigan native and a graduate of Indiana University.

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