EAST PEORIA – Sure, it’s easy to write the “there’s always next year” column after any team loses a state championship game, or really any playoff game.
It’s not just the Kaneland softball team – which lost, 15-8, Saturday in the Class 3A title game – that gives off positive vibes for next year.
The 2019 season is setting up to be a banner year for area softball.
Sure, this could look like some sort of foolish rah-rah column by this time next year. But looking around at what teams had this year and who’s coming back, there’s reason for more than guarded optimism.
Start with the Knights. After collecting the second-place trophy Saturday, coach Mike Kuefler was looking at the future.
“This is a super young team,” Kuefler said. “This experience is going to push us back down here next year. ... We’re losing some tremendous kids, Hannah Theobald is a four-year [starter and] senior, and Lexi Abruzzo and Katie Kurzrock and our manager, Emma Fugger. We’re losing some great kids. But the young kids we have on this team, the experience they got today, is going to bring them back down here.”
Freshman shortstop Rose Roach and sophomore second baseman Donatela Sommesi by themselves make a two-person wrecking crew, but four other starters return. As does sophomore Emilee Erickson, who went from showing flashes of brilliance to showing extended periods of dominance – like for the first 66/7 of the Knights’ seven postseason games, until running into a Montini buzzsaw that rediscovered its offensive stroke.
Although heading to Wisconsin-River Falls, Theobald is excited to see what the Knights do.
“I’m going to miss it, but I know they’re going to do great,” Theobald said. “I know they’re going to do me proud. I know they’re going to do the school proud.”
Then there’s the team that beat Kaneland twice in the regular season, the Sycamore Spartans. There were two seniors on the roster, and most of the major contributors will be back. Haley Trela kept raking offensively and showed defensive improvement at shortstop in her sophomore campaign. Sophomore pitcher Faith Reynolds in particular is poised for a leap.
Sophomore pitchers are a theme, as DeKalb also features one in Ashley Nelson. And the Barbs had a roster with only three seniors on it, as well.
And that’s not even getting into the small schools in Hiawatha, Hinckley-Big Rock and Indian Creek, which all had two seniors or less on their rosters.
So maybe this will look foolish in reflection June 8, 2019. But it seems DeKalb County will have more than one regional champion.
• Eddie Carifio can be reached a email@example.com.