Whether she’s singing or speaking, the UConn softball team’s Carli Cutler’s voice fills the room – and people listen.
“Her confidence, she’s one of those people that when you talk to her you can just tell right away that she’s a very confident person,” co-captain Olivia Sappington said on what stands out to her about Cutler. “It really helps her in life, being able to command a room, not just being able to command a team on the field, but being able to have a presence within a classroom she’s in and everything she goes into.”
Cutler, also a co-captain, is a beacon of positive energy and confidence for the rest of the team to build off. Her presence was learned in part from her family, parents Todd and Deanna and sister Camille, who instilled positivity in her from a young age. Projecting good vibes and being a leader runs in her veins.
“She is an energy-giver,” head coach Laura Valentino said. “She truly electrifies a room and really spreads the energy. She is so positive with the tone that she sets every practice.”
Todd, who played tight end for New Mexico State in the ‘80s, was elected mayor in Fernley, Nevada where the Cutlers spent Carli’s single-digit years. Now, they live in Rocklin, California where he is the superintendent for the Winters Joint Unified School District there.
“She has a vision and she knows what she wants, and is going to go for it,” pitcher Marybeth Olson said. “At the same time, she is very caring and just wants everyone to succeed, on the field obviously, but off the field too and I think is a big reason why we are starting to see the program turn around a bit. She just has that vision and she goes and attacks it.”
Part of that vision is to get the team to be closer knit and bring the family values she holds so close to her, to the rest of the team. This includes “rippin’ lips” on the team’s fishing trip and playing a starring role in Olson’s vlog series – found under @justbeanthings on Instagram.
Cutler is a table-setter, or a thermometer in the words of Valentino; when she goes, so does the rest of the team.
“She is definitely one of those people that brings it every single day, and some days it is really hard to bring that high intensity, especially when life is just draining you in every direction,” Sappington said. “Her energy, people feed off of it and I feed off of it.”
The senior is always moving on the field, picking up dirt at her home at the hot corner or shouting, so when she doesn’t have it someone else must pick up the slack – that’s where the look comes in.
When Cutler or Sappington don’t have their usual stash of energy, they have a look that lets the other know to step up in their place. Unfortunately, no look or pick-me-up could possibly have satisfied the void that comes with the tragedy Cutler experienced at the very start of last season.
On Feb. 8 of this year, Carli and her family lost her uncle, Scott Cutler, unexpectedly at the age of 53. He died while the team was playing in the Florida International Softball Tournament between UConn, Michigan State, Bryant and FIU. The day he died, UConn swept a double-header against Bryant and Michigan State and Cutler played in both games. She drove in four runs on four hits that day and struck out just one time the whole weekend.
Since it was the very beginning of the season, Cutler had little time to grieve, using softball as her outlet.
“It was really tough to see her go through that because she is normally one of the more upbeat, energetic ones and for it to happen in the beginning of the season when we were away, it was heartbreaking because you could see how much she was in pain,” Olson said.
It changed her perception of relationships and experiences, she said, but has allowed her to take a step back and re-evaluate what’s important in her life.
“Now she realizes how precious life is, how precious time is,” Sappington said. Cutler doesn’t put as much weight on small things and better understands the big picture, she said as well.
While they are very different situations, this wasn’t the first time the two of Sappington and Cutler have dealt with tough times together. In 2016, when they were both freshmen at UConn, Sappington found out she needed ACL surgery. Despite having spent just a month or so together as teammates at this point, Cutler came over to Sappington, hugged her and cried with her.
“I really have a passion for serving others and supporting other people, in the process of softball and life,” Cutler said.
It was at this point, where Sappington knew she was going to have a special bond with her teammate.
“That was the starting moment with her where I knew, she’s not just going to be a teammate for the next four years, she’s going to be a bridesmaid at my wedding, she’s going to be a best friend for the rest of my life,” Sappington said.
Sappington hasn’t been the only reciever of Cutler’s support, she spreads it around to her other teammates as well. When Olson was a freshman, Cutler was the first person to reach out to her and make her feel welcome, inviting her to train with her for the team’s running test.
“I spend a lot of time reflecting on situations, how I handled it, how I could have been better,” Cutler said. “The most important thing to me is having relationships and having people know that I care about them, I think that is one of the most important parts of leading.”