CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern seniors Arizona Pilgrim and Caitlyn Emberson discuss their lifelong friendship and experiences as Buccaneers while serving as two crucial roles in the university's softball program.
What many people don't know about the catcher-pitcher duo is that the two athletes grew up together in Taft, Calif. In fact, it's difficult for either of them to remember the first time they met.
"We've known each other since forever," Pilgrim laughed. "Our moms played softball together in high school so they were friends and I always remember Caitlyn being my friend".
Both Emberson and Pilgrim's mothers played softball together in high school and their friendship progressed from there. Ironically, they played the same positions as their daughters - pitcher and catcher.
Fortunately, their mothers' relationship forced them to have a friendship of their own. Eventually, the families were taking trips to different softball camps where the girls stuck out compared to the other players they say. One of Pilgrim's best memories of their friendship was, in fact, at a softball clinic with Caitlyn and their families.
"We were always taller than everyone growing up, even the boys, so our parents put us in a league in another town to see how we'd do with more competition," Pilgrim said. "We got there and we still were the tallest girls there so our parents told us to play with each other so we wouldn't hurt the other girls."
As they were growing up, they were not always teammates or even liked the same sports. They managed to indulge in separate hobbies as Caitlyn played volleyball and Arizona played on the golf team in high school.
As years passed, they were able to put their talents and personalities together throughout high school and club by playing softball.
"We fought like sisters and I was super quiet," Pilgrim said. "I'm more vocal than I used to be but she (Caitlyn) always spoke for us. She was more vocal in that aspect."
Emberson added, "We've learned our boundaries with softball. I know what to do in certain situations."
When it came to their recruiting process, former CSU head softball coach Shane Winkler showed interest in the girls after seeing them play at various tournaments. Originally, Winkler came to watch Charleston Southern's assistant coach and alumna Stevi Johnson play as she already committed to CSU, but he quickly took interest in Caitlyn.
She recalled the moment and says, "I had a really good game and then he said he wanted to talk to me. He came to watch me play again and that's when he saw Arizona."
The duo did not realize they had both committed to CSU and Coach Winkler had offered both of them until they spoke about it later.
"I didn't know Arizona was looking here until later," Emberson laughed. "That's when I found out she was going here too."
As the girls traveled across the country to CSU, they had a lot of support from friends and family. Whether their families physically traveled there or watched through a screen, the girls always knew their families were there in spirit.
"I got lucky my parents and family members would always come out at least once a month," Emberson said. "It made an easier transition to be away from home."
While playing for CSU, the girls had a few obstacles thrown their way.
Prior their senior year, Coach Winkler decided to leave the program, forcing them to adjust to a new coach and a new approach, all while trying to lead a young team. Coach Venus Taylor stepped into the program and the girls have raved about their experience under the first-year head coach.
"She's brought a lot of excitement and is always trying to push us to do our best," Pilgrim said. "She really wants us to go all out on the field and try hard every day with a good attitude."
The mindset that Taylor has instilled in this team has changed the way they look at the game.
"She brings a whole new aspect of teaching to the game," Emberson said. "She's really tried to teach everyone to not be selfish. It is not a selfish game - when you play for your teammates and not just for a record we are going to win more."
As upperclassmen to a young team, both Emberson and Pilgrim stepped up as leaders and mentors this season. This experience has given them the ability to set an example and grow as players individually.
"I just tried to learn from everyone around me like how to be a better player," Emberson said. "What I needed to do to play and how to show the younger people coming in what they should do to have a successful team."
As the two seniors' final season is winding down, they had some poignant words to leave behind in regards to their legacies here at Charleston Southern.
"I want to be known as someone who comes to practice with a good attitude and is always happy," Pilgrim said. "I just want the underclassmen to look up to me and know I'm always trying hard and did my best and left it all on the field."
Emberson became emotional while leaving a message to some of the underclassmen and her wish for them in the future.
"I hope they learn not to take anything for granted and to always work hard and not take any days off," she commented. "You need your off days every now and then but at the same time it's going to be over at some point so don't not give it your full heart every time."
As graduation approaches, the girls have bright plans for their futures, yet, this time in different directions. Emberson will be graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with the hopes to get into PA school and help the softball team with Coach Taylor in her downtime.
Pilgrim will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education and plans on moving back to California to get a job with her mother who is also a physical education teacher.
As for the future friendship between both athletes, Emberson ended with this.
"We will always be friends; that will never change."