“Cheyenne will never play shortstop at the Division I level.”
The words hung in the air, slicing through the silence. Tracy Cordes took a moment to absorb what the coach had said to her. Before she had a chance to respond, he continued.
“I think we need to move her somewhere else.”
Just seconds ago, Tracy was on the sidelines watching her daughter, Cheyenne, take part in softball nationals in Tennessee. She watched as Cheyenne smoothly fielded grounders from the shortstop position, just like how Tracy had taught her years ago.
Now, one of the coaches was telling her that her daughter’s dream of starting as a shortstop for a Pac-12 school was nothing more than a dream.
“Are you serious?” Tracy asked the coach. “Did you really just say that about my 13-year-old daughter?”
When Tracy broke the news to Cheyenne, Tracy watched as she took it in. Just like her mother, Cheyenne was in a state of disbelief.
To this day, his words are seared into Cheyenne’s memory.
“She basically said, ‘I’ll show him,’” Tracy says. “Because she thought that she could do that. She just knew what she wanted and went after it.”
Growing up in Fairfield, Calif., Cheyenne was surrounded by softball. With a mom who worked as both a high school P.E. teacher and a softball coach, she was never far from the game.
Tracy embraced the role of Cheyenne’s personal softball and life coach, all while compensating for the absence of Cheyenne’s father.
It was high school, and Cheyenne was playing in a tournament in Colorado. With her mom on the sidelines, Cheyenne was hit in the face by a softball so hard that her eye was practically swollen shut.
Tracy calmly walked up to her daughter, asked if she was okay and if she needed a Tylenol.
“She just toughened me up to the max, so when things like that happen, they don’t really affect me,” Cheyenne says. “Not just on the field, but in school. She would just always push me.”
But her family’s financial circumstances meant that she couldn’t afford to go to college, leaving a full athletic scholarship as the only route to her Pac-12 dreams.
Meanwhile, Cheyenne took care of what she was in control of — performing on the field and forming connections with college coaches.
Beginning in middle school, Cheyenne joined the Lady Magic travel ball team. Lady Magic was one of the best travel ball teams in California, putting Cheyenne on the map of college softball coaches.
Seeking a way to connect with her potential coaches, Cheyenne began emailing them on a weekly basis detailing her successes and failures on the diamond. She emailed them so much that even she thought she was annoying.
“It’s typical of most softball players to email coaches, but not to do it at the level I did,” says Cheyenne. “I just wanted them to know that I wanted it more than they wanted me.”
Her persistence paid off. When Cheyenne arrived at softball camps run by college coaches, they told her that her personality matched her emails. They felt as if they already knew her.
“At the time, I was using AOL, and they had those little faces — the emojis of today,” Cheyenne says, smiling. “I’d put all those cool things in there.”
While most of her teammates’ families could pay their daughters’ team dues without any difficulties, the Cordes family didn’t have that luxury.
Tracy shouldered the bulk of the load, along with support from Cheyenne’s grandparents and brother.
“Family sacrifice is the word I would use to describe that time period,” says Cheyenne. “If there’s anything I wanted to do, (my brother) would give his right arm for me to be able to do it.”
When the time came for schools to make their scholarship offers, Cheyenne’s name was on more than one Pac-12 school’s list.
But Cheyenne still had one final hurdle to clear.
It was a Thursday afternoon during Cheyenne’s freshman year at Rodriguez High School. Cheyenne and Tracy made the 40-minute drive from Fairfield to Berkeley. The next day, they were scheduled to fly down to tour UCLA.
Both teams wanted Cheyenne to be their shortstop of the future. Cheyenne couldn’t make up her mind.
UCLA had a tradition unmatched by any other softball program in the country, but Cal was the team she grew up watching. She could still remember the Bears winning their first national championship in 2002.
In the days leading up to her decision, Cheyenne was brought to tears over her dilemma.
“(I wasn’t) crying out of being upset,” Cheyenne says. “But crying because it was such a huge decision, and I didn’t want to mess it up.”
Her tour of Berkeley led Tracy and Cheyenne to an office overlooking Evans Diamond. Cheyenne had kept her feelings bottled up to this point, but she couldn’t hold them in any longer.
Stepping outside into the hall with her mother, Cheyenne told her mother everything she had kept inside since they had arrived in Berkeley. She told her how she just knew that she was meant to be here at Cal.
She couldn’t explain the feeling, just that it just felt right to be here.
Cheyenne committed to be a Bear the moment she stepped back into that office.
“I was just standing there and was like, man, I feel like I’m just supposed to be here.” Cheyenne says. “Whatever my plan is, this is my plan.
“It just feels right. I’ve heard people talk about it, but this must be it.”