When driving back-and-forth from Fort Dodge multiple times in a week, a trip that includes a lot of nothingness while en route to a town that, in humble opinion should never be hosting state-level events, a man can get a lot of thinking done.
After a long ride, the Class 2A No. 1 ranked Wilton softball team finished the season with a week of games in Forth Dodge at the state tournament. The Beavers went 1-2 and finished fourth in state.
For coverage of Wilton's state semifinal and third place games, see pages 9-13.
It seemed like forever and a day ago that the Beavers had lost their last game, winners of 20 straight before falling to Earlham in the semifinals. After the defeat, Wilton was a bit flat the next night while competing for third place. Central Springs scored early and often in a 6-inning 10-run rule win over the Beavers, beating our Wilton team in a way it hasn't been beaten in a very long time.
For parents, fans, and even the coaching staff led by sisters Kortney Denkman and Kara Anderson, this season was a culmination of five years of work.
Many of the seniors on this team, led by All-Tournament team selection Chloe Wells, have played varsity since they were in eighth grade. For coach Denkman, who's been coaching the Beavers for seven years, that nearly spans her career thus far at Wilton.
For years, starting primarily in 2018 when this group made a surprise run to the state tournament, my conversations with Denkman would always start the same way. Either she, or I, would comment on how young the team was — and they were when they went to Fort Dodge as freshmen and nearly knocked off the top seeded Louisa-Muscatine Falcons.
Foolishly, some in town probably began thinking this group would get back to state again and again. I'm no expert, but have been around long enough to know that's not how it works. Nothing is guaranteed.
Ask Durant and the heartbreak its many great teams have had over the years. Now that Kamryn Meyer has joined the staff, she could tell some stories.
But this year it was different. All of a sudden, our team was old ... or older. Rewind back to the preseason, and I'm sure phones around town were constantly "blowing up" wondering who was going to play where on the Wilton team.
Why? There was just the right combination of former players graduating coupled with current players not going out again this season.
Yes that's right. We're a small school, yet some of our best athletes don't go out for softball. Our best female athlete, Kelsey Drake, doesn't go out. Two starting infielders from last season, both of which you'll see on a highly ranked volleyball team that will make the state tournament in the fall, Ella Caffery and Mallory Lange, didn't go out.
Caffery was last year's shortstop and Lange would have been second base, again, in my opinion.
"At a small school, we want kids to be multi-sport athletes. That's the hard part about softball, it's in the summer and we're one of few states that play summer softball. But we had some younger girls step up," said Denkman.
That's for sure! In came Taylor Drayfahl at shortstop and Lexi Walker at second base. These two players represent everything good about the Wilton softball program. Lexi, a lifer who waited her turn to shine her senior season while starting consistently in the same position. Taylor, a hungry underclassman who took an opportunity and ran with it.
Find me another team our size who can fill gaps that large with players capable of helping our team get to No. 1 for the first time in school history.
While watching this team over the years, I always had the same evaluation/fear. These girls hit and score runs. However, I worried about keeping other teams from scoring runs.
Softball is an interesting game in that at the highest of levels, one great pitcher can mask a lot of things, and take a team a long way.
Were there any other teams out there like us, hitting the ball hard 1-9 and scoring multiple runs, hitting home runs, etc.? In Class 2A?
We found a couple in Fort Dodge. Over the last two games, the Beavers gave up 29 hits and 21 runs to Earlham and Central Springs. To the eyes of this editor, I felt a bit as if I was watching Wilton play itself in these games. Teams that belted the ball all over the field 1-9, making it tough on our pitchers and forcing our defense to make plays. This has been the recipe for Wilton success in recent years.
Of course the semifinals couldn't' come without drama. Numerous illegal pitches. A collision down the first baseline that leveled Lexi Walker and got an Earlham player ejected. Nevertheless, we battled.
Had the air left the balloon by the time the Beavers came back for the third place game? Who knows? These are 14-18 year old student-athletes, that's what I tell myself
We won't dissect it further. Instead we'll file this away as the fifth ever Wilton softball team to make the state tournament. The only one to achieve No. 1 in the rankings and in the state seeding. And the only one to win that first game and finish in the top four. A lot to be proud of, and dare you think the cupboard is bare think again, there will be key pieces coming back next season to try this all over again.