Paetynn Lopez had her choice of college softball programs to join after a stellar catching career at W.F. West. Her official campus visits included Power-5 teams Louisville and Minnesota, the latter of which competed in the college world series in 2019. But it was a team Lopez first encountered in 2018 that caught her attention.
Lopez, while playing in an Oregon tournament for her Northwest Bullets select softball team, met the coaching staff at Portland State University (PSU) her sophomore year of high school. It didn’t take much convincing on PSU’s part. Lopez spurned the Power-5 programs and committed to the Vikings her junior year, officially signing her National Letter of Intent in October 2019.
“I felt like as soon as they started talking with me, they were the ones for me,” Lopez said. “It was really exciting and kind of unreal... It was closer to home, I’m a homebody, and the coaches were amazing. My coaches seemed really confident in me.”
Lopez, a 5-foot-6 catcher, was a four-year starter for the Bearcats, twice earning all-state recognition from the Washington State Softball Coaches Association. She was named one of the top-5 catchers in the state by Scorebook Live Washington in 2020.
Her high school career started off about as good as one could hope. Lopez exploded onto the scene, earning the starting catcher job as a freshman. She hit .432, belted four home runs and gunned down five runners, helping the Bearcats capture their second state title in three years. She would go on to earn all-league honors and a spot on The Chronicle’s All-Area team.
She continued her tear into her sophomore year, hitting .426, blasting nine home runs, 43 hits and three triples as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup.
By the end of her junior season, she hit .393 with a .480 on-base percentage, drove in 39 runs, scored 37 times, hit 12 doubles and cranked seven homers to earn first-team all-league honors.
Her senior year ended before it even began, with the WIAA canceling all 2020 spring sports at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s now been almost an entire year since Lopez has played in an actual softball game, the longest drought she’s had since starting the sport at 8-years-old.
After spending fall quarter doing online classes from her parents’ home in Chehalis, Lopez just finally moved into the dorms at Portland State on Jan. 2. Classes started on Jan. 4 and are all online. She has an entire dorm room to herself, just like every freshman living in a dorm at the university, to keep safe from pandemic.
The downside is she can’t come within 6 feet of her family for the next five months. The Vikings are preparing for their season in March and are under strict COVID-19 guidelines from the university and the Big Sky Conference.
“It’s been kind of hard being away from my family,” Lopez said. “It’s been fun and hard all at the same time. Just doing adult things is new for me, too. My parents are super on me about stuff, so it’s weird not having that anymore.”
The players are currently in a two-week quarantine, which will be followed by group workouts and practices. For now, she spends the mornings doing online classes. From 11:50 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., she uses the PSU athletic facilities to hit and throw with a teammate then heads back to her dorm to finish classes for the day.
Portland State finished a COVID-19-shortened season in April 2020. After facing eight Power-5 schools, the Vikings finished with a 6-18 overall record, last in the seven-team Big Sky Conference. Five of those losses came by one run.
Lopez and the Vikings will kick off their 2021 season at home against Montana on March 26. Their final regular-season game will be May 1, with the Big Sky Tournament running from May 14-16.
“I’m excited to meet everybody and play with them,” Lopez said. “My dream has always been to go to a D-1, and now I’m here and it’s great and I’m thankful for it.”