Sports

North, South play the waiting game

brianna

SOUTH’S BRIANNA SCHAEFER is switching positions this season. – Submitted photo

Brianna Schaefer was ready to become a pitcher again, but like every spring sport, that has been put on hold.

“It’s kind of depressing,” the South junior said.

Switching positions is nothing new for Schaefer, who was also a pitcher as a freshman before moving to third base in 2019.

“I was a very good pitcher up until about my U-14 years,” Schaefer said. “I played on a summer-ball team and they didn’t have me pitch for a whole year. Basically my whole skill set went down, back to beginner again. So when they asked me to start pitching freshman year for high school, I really had to practice because I was just coming out of losing all my skills.”

To prepare for this season, Schaefer attended open gyms back in the fall. Now, all she can do is pitch to her father at South’s field, even though she thinks there likely will not be a season.

“I don’t really know what’s all going to happen with us going back to school,” Schaefer said. “But if they do decide to cancel spring sports, it’s not going to be a surprise.”

NO MORE NIEHAUS: Sophomore Ashleigh Niehaus was one of two Redwings who made all-conference last year, but the second-team infielder lives in Mississippi after her family moved because of a job. She was also the team’s top pitcher.

“It was definitely disappointing knowing you had a freshman who pitched an entire season and also has the ability to make an impact offensively,” South coach Kelly Dohse said. “But I was glad and fortunate we got to have her for a season. She’s just a great kid.”

FLYNN IS FINISHED, TOO: The other all-Big East player was catcher Helen Flynn, but she graduated.

“I guess when you’re replacing an entire battery it’s a little easier,” Dohse said. “But a catcher is such an integral part of having someone out there who’s kind of your field leader; they know the game really well. Helen, being a senior and having played that position for a while, she really embraced the role well.”

LOOKING BACK: It was Dohse’s first season at the helm last year and the team went 3-22.

But several players who were juniors last year had to miss games so they could play on the junior varsity because of a lack of numbers in the program.

So the Redwings essentially had a different lineup every game.

“That was something I thought was in our best interest to try and develop younger players,” Dohse said. “I had to get my juniors on board to adjust to the changing schedule, knowing only a couple days ahead of time if they were playing JV or varsity. It’s a hard dynamic to manage.”

The positive side of the situation was the varsity and JV teams practiced together, which elevated the younger players more quickly and got them up to speed, according to the coach.

“That’s something I valued,” she said.

The unfortunate thing about the season being delayed is the seniors who paid their dues were ready to play more varsity.

“I think they were really excited about this year knowing they were going to be my core of the varsity, knowing they were going to get the starts and the games,” Dohse said. “So I think they’re kind of devastated by the fact they may not play this season.

“But for our younger players, I definitely think that we were going to see some marked improvement and some of them be ready to jump in and play at a high level this year. It helped our younger kids and made our seniors a little bit more anxious and hungry for the season.”

NORTH

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NORTH’S ALLY WAGNER made all-conference as an infielder last year. – Photo by Katherine Goebel

North’s softball team was hoping to keep its progress rolling.

The Golden Raiders were coming off a 9-9 conference season – their most wins in the league since 2012 – and their offseason improvement was called incredible by their coach.

Then the Coronavirus halted everything.

“I was really looking forward to the season that we were going to have because I think we were going to really kind of make our mark in the conference,” North coach Christopher Lenz said. “I don’t know if we would’ve contended for a conference title, but I would’ve been disappointed if we weren’t top three or four with the talent we have.”

Without any seniors this season, Lenz says he wanted to set the table this year with hopes of contending for a title next season.

“To have this season to prepare ourselves, get in that mindset of winning, would have been really beneficial,” he said.

Even if it were a “sliver” of a season, as Lenz called it.

“We’re just hanging onto hope,” he said.

ENCORES ON HOLD: Ashley Thaves and Ally Wagner were hoping to carry over their impressive debuts from a year ago.

The junior Thaves moved from first base to catcher last season and received all-conference honorable mention.

Her coach says she never hesitated when asked to switch positions and called her season amazing.

“She was like a sponge, learning everything she possibly could,” Lenz said. “She worked on her own, the coaching staff, her dad on all these things. She’s made some tremendous strides and I only see her getting better. She’s going to be fun to watch, that’s for sure.”

The sophomore Wagner made second-team all-Fox River Classic as a result of a team-best .424 batting average.

She got a hit in every conference game but one, against Pulaski.

“The outfielder made a fantastic diving catch down the line to rob her of at least a double,” Lenz said.

NOT EVERYONE IS BACK: Pitcher Talia Lackershire made all-conference the last three seasons, including second team last year, but she graduated after tossing 75% of her team’s innings as a senior.

The only other starters who have to be replaced are two outfielders, including senior Natalie Dulmes, who did not go out this season to concentrate on volleyball and academics.

 

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