HOBBS, New Mexico (KMID/KPEJ) – Last March, The University of the Southwest’s Men’s and Women’s golf teams, were involved in a tragic bus crash that killed seven members. Four members on the team last year, who were not traveling with the team on the bus, have returned to the team this year.

The returning students and June James, late Coach Tyler James’ mom, spoke with ABC Big 2. They said this past year has been hard…but they’ve had a lot of support.

“He wanted so much for his team to be a family, and we are,” said an emotional James.

March 15th, 2022 has become one of the hardest days those left behind have ever had to face.

USW golf teams were driving back from a tournament in Midland, when they were hit and killed on FM 1788 in Andrews.

While investigating, families of the victims were identified and informed of the tragedy throughout the night, except for the family of Coach Tyler James.

“We didn’t know. My phone went off Wednesday morning, about 7:20, and it’s one of my teachers, actually our criminal justice teacher, and he said ‘I’m sorry for your loss of Tyler. Is there anything I can do?'” she said as she grew more emotional. “I looked at my phone and, so I called him and I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ and he said, ‘Oh my God, you don’t know!'”

James said Tyler had found his home with this golf team, and with the Hobbs community.

“It was his life and he loved it. We didn’t know a lot about his Hobbs friends, until after his death and now we know why he was so happy, they were a true family and they were taking care of him,” she cried.

The moment the news broke, pain sunk in but so did the disbelief.

Halie Cruz is one of the four teammates who returned to the University. She said she chose to stay home in Andrews that week to be closer to the tournament. When the crash happened, she could hear the sound of sirens and helicopters at the scene.

“It was just like it didn’t seem real was the big thing, and it was just like you couldn’t believe it. You wanted to text them but you knew you wouldn’t get a response back,” she said.

And sophomore Taylor Phillips, also returning to campus chose to stay with her mom that night. When the bus was hit, she had many people reach out, and thought this couldn’t be real.

“All of it’s kind of like a blur, I don’t remember all of like what happened, or what was said, I just kind of remember him being like, ‘Your whole team just died and there was a car accident!’ I was thinking this is a really sick joke, this isn’t funny,” she yelled.

The four who returned, said it was the most difficult decision they had to make to come back the following season, to a team they didn’t recognize anymore.

Phillips added, “I think for all of us, it’s been really like a big challenge. Just to come back and have like that small part of us missing,” she paused. “Going out to the golf course, it’s different every time. I love my new team and I wouldn’t trade them for the world but it’s just not the same and I think they know that and they’ve done really really well, being there and supporting us.”

Phillip Lopez, one of the four who returned said he went back and fourth on the decision to return.

“It was a tough decision at first. At first I was ready to come back but as soon as it was time to come back, it just got, real hard, and I had second thoughts, but I knew I wanted to come back just to play for the guys and pretty much just play for them this year.”

And Cruz said it was imperative, she come back.

“I need to finish what they started. At first I wasn’t going to come back because it was just way too hard, and then last minute I was like, I need to finish,” she said.

Together, they said they are glad to have made the decision to come back and play for their lost coach and teammates, but it hasn’t gotten any easier. But having the core four on each others side, helps ease the pain.

“It’s been really nice and just talk to them and be real with them and know that they’re feeling the same way that I am,” mentioned Phillips.

They said this has become the time to play, for their family. And they are thankful for their past.

“I’m very thankful for who they were and all the memories they provided for us. I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” said a smiling Cruz.

And for Coach Tyler’s mom, she’s happy that those who were taken in the accident, aren’t in pain anymore.

“I know there’s a reason for everything, and I know, that his faith, has him where he needs to be. But, like I said, there was so much talent and so much future for not just him, but those other kids in that van,” she cried.

Many tournaments continue to be held throughout the year in honor of those who were lost in the accident.

The next known tournament will be the 2nd Annual Jackson Zinn Memorial Golf Tournament, Saturday, July 8th, 2023 in Westminster, Colorado.