For 10 of the 21 players on the Three Rivers softball team, Saturday was either their first plane ride or the first one they can remember.
Feelings and reactions were mixed.
They worried about losing their luggage, which for each of them meant their softball bags and gear. There were fears of crashing, missing the connecting flight in Salt Lake City, getting sick. But there were some fun bits, too.
“I loved it. I don’t know why,” Crowley said. “When he said there was going to be turbulence, I was like, ‘Yes!’ I love roller coasters. When your body lifts up off the seat, like when we were going down, that was my favorite part.
Added Fayth Rakes, “The whole world looked like a map.”
The Raiders loaded a school bus at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and headed out for St. Louis. As they neared the airport, Makenna Moore got a bit anxious.
“Once we got to the airport, I just kept thinking, how if the plane crashes and how we would die,” Moore said.
At check-in, workers were less than gentle putting bags onto the conveyer belt. There were some questions about going through security. Do I need to take my shoes off? What do I need to put into the plastic tray?
“Coach (Jason Gwin) was my favorite part,” Crowley said about checking bags. “He goes, ‘My Playstation is in there.’”
Gwin, or “Coach J,” as the Raiders call him, doesn’t like flying, but he helped relieve the anxieties of the players who were too busy giggling at their coach to worry about themselves. When Gwin’s toddler son wanted to roll up the window shade to look outside, dad rolled it back down. His two young children will take turns looking out the window while sitting next to mom ... in a different row.
“When we took off, I started doing a ‘Coach J’ holding onto the handles,” Emma Keen said. “Kyla (Puckett) looks over at me, and she said, ‘Are you OK. I said, ‘Uh no.’ And we were holding hands on the liftoff.”
Most of the first-time flyers preferred the window seat, though it was not an option for Keen. She sat in a row with fellow first-time flyers Kyla and Kindi Puckett, who fought amongst themselves for the window seat and left Keen on the aisle as the Raiders jetted out of Lambert International Airport.
“I didn’t like it at all. The first plane (in St. Louis) I started crying when we went up because it scared me so bad,” Moore said. “Once we got up and the turbulence stopped, it was fine, but on the way down, it got bad again.”
The flight hit some turbulence as it descended into Salt Lake City. While sitting near the window helped most of the girls, it backfired on Makale Floyd.
“I felt like we were in the same spot the whole time because the clouds weren’t moving, and that threw me off ... I got airsick on landing,” said Floyd, who added her mouth started salivating.
During the rough landing, Crowley wanted to put her hands up in the air like a roller coaster but worried people would look at her funny.
“It felt like going down a gravel road,” Crowley said. “I thought it was so fun. I’m excited about going back home.”
Then the brakes came on.
“I felt like I was going to fly out of my seat,” Rakes said.
After an hour layover, they did it all again for a puddle jump trip from Salt Lake City to Phoenix.
“That guy pretty much came in hot. It was rough, but the first one wasn’t bad,” Keen said of landing in Phoenix.
At baggage claim in Phoenix, Crowley picked up her grandmother’s suitcase to find out it had been smushed, as though someone took a giant pair of pliers and pinched the middle together.
“They completely destroyed it, and the handle doesn’t work anymore. But my mom contacted the airline, and they are going to refund me for it,” Crowley said. “I was kind of upset about it because it was my grandma’s.”
Crowley didn’t have a suitcase big enough for the nine-day trip to Arizona, so she went to her grandma’s house and asked if she could use one. Grandma lent Crowley her only suitcase, which had been used once.
Not done, everyone loaded onto a charter bus for the three-hour drive to their hotel in Yuma, finally ending a 15-hour long travel day.
Mercifully, the team has a nonstop flight back to St. Louis on May 30.
Their primary concern is where their National Championship trophy is going to sit.