Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Graduation Worth The Wait For Cassidy

By Brian Rosenthal

Oh, sure, Bri Cassidy could have somehow found a way to squeeze in the two remaining classes she needed to complete her degree, and then graduate this weekend.

Had she done that, however, Cassidy would have received her diploma informally, perhaps through the mail, given that she and her Nebraska softball teammates will be in Wisconsin to conclude the regular season, and not at Saturday’s commencement ceremony.

While student-athletes sometimes do miss their graduation because of competition, Cassidy was determined to wait until she could walk across that stage.

She had a good reason, too.

Cassidy, a senior from San Bernardino, California, will be the first in her family – parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins – to graduate from a four-year university.

“Being the first in my family,” Cassidy said, “I thought there’s no way I can live with not being able to walk at graduation.”

So Cassidy put off her final two classes for this summer and will graduate in August – with her mother and father planning to be in the audience at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“I have a younger brother who’s a junior in high school, so sort of just setting that foundation for him and just showing him that he can do it too was just super important to me,” Cassidy said. “Growing up where I did, there’s a lot of people who don’t get to go to college, so it was more than just being the first in my family. It was being somebody that other people in my community could look up to.”

Cassidy, who won the Nebraska Heart & Soul Award at last month’s Night at the Lied ceremony, will remain at Nebraska to work on her Masters’ degree. She will enter the MAIAA program, a specialization in collegiate athletic administration. She will have an apprenticeship in the business college during her first year and an apprenticeship in athletics during her second year.

The most important part to her, though, is that she is staying in Nebraska.

“I really do want to live here for the rest of my life,” Cassidy said. “I love it here so much.”

Compare that thought to when Cassidy was attending Cajon High School in southern California.

“To be honest with you,” she said, “I didn’t know where Nebraska was on a map.”

Then, as a sophomore, Cassidy noticed Nebraska’s softball coaches at one of her games. They came back. And they came back again.

“I felt like they were there every weekend. I was like, ‘Holy moly, I keep seeing these people, maybe I need to start looking into this,” Cassidy said.

“They sat through rain, like, literally the worst weather southern California could possibly have. I was like, ‘They truly care about me.’ That was before I even got to talk to them on the phone. I could just feel that from them.”

So intrigued was Cassidy that she made an unofficial visit to Lincoln, by herself, because her parents couldn’t afford for all of them to make the trip.

“The coaches were great about making sure everything was taken care of, as far as logistics go,” Cassidy said, “because they knew I was coming by myself, and I was only a sophomore in high school. I knew my parents felt good about that.”

Cassidy arrived in a blizzard and a temperature of minus-3 degrees.

“When I went back and told people that,” she said, “they were, ‘Oh my gosh, you want to go there?’ And was like, ‘Yeah, I love it.’ ”

She attended a soup supper where she met other recruits and their families. She met many different people who’d been associated with the program for many years, and she felt a connection.

“You could just tell they were one big family,” Cassidy said.

That, plus Nebraska’s academic support system and Life Skills department, convinced Cassidy where she wanted to spend her next four years.

“It was amazing to see how many people play a role in student athletes' lives and developing them as more than just an athlete,” she said, “which completely set Nebraska apart from any other place that I saw or had even heard of. That sold me.”

As a child, Cassidy first played baseball and thought she was “going to play baseball forever,” but her father convinced her otherwise, so she began playing softball at age 11. She also bowled competitively growing up, traveling and participating in tournaments.

“My teammates now, they do not like going bowling with me,” Cassidy said, laughing. “We don’t do that very often. They don’t like losing. They’re competitive and are like, ‘It’s not even fair to go with you. You don’t have to have your own ball or anything, and you still whoop us.’ ”

Cassidy has been Nebraska’s main catcher the past three seasons, having made 162 career starts entering this weekend’s series. She got her senior season off to a hot start, going 9-for-16 (.562) with three runs, four RBIs and five doubles in the opening weekend, and currently has the team’s fourth-highest batting average at .290.

Last weekend, her parents saw her play for the first time at Bowlin Stadium, as Nebraska swept Maryland. Previously, they’d only seen her play when Nebraska was playing in California or Arizona.

“My parents are having experiences they never got to have before by living through me. They were just out here this past week, and it was cool to see the look in their eyes,” Cassidy said. “It literally reminded me of when I came out here for the first time. They got to see the life I live every single day.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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