COLUMN: LYNX SOFTBALL CIRCLE OF FAME
Webster City softball fans, I’ve got news for you: You’ve been spoiled.
I’m talking Kardashian spoiled. Paris Hilton in her prime spoiled. New York Yankees fans spoiled.
And here’s the kicker – you probably didn’t even realize it.
Pick a Girls of Summer season over the past 25 years and the odds are good Webster City possessed an all-state pitcher. Some had style. Some had grit. Some were just plain mean and had nothing on the agenda other than to kick the butt of the girl in the batter’s box.
Don’t believe me? Wrap your head around the fact that over the last 2 1/2 decades, the Lynx have housed 10 hurlers that collected a combined 23 all-state awards? That’s not a typo … 23. They’ve averaged one per season over the past 20 years.
That’s not just impressive. That’s rub-your-eyes, it-can’t-be-true-but-it-is ridiculous.
“Growing up in Webster City, then playing and now coaching, I feel like I’ve seen them all,” WCHS head softball coach Jess Howard said. “I remember watching Jenny Wirtz (a four-time all-stater) pitch … nobody could forget hearing her grunt and that still sticks with you. Every one of them had their great moments and they’ve all been great pitchers for Webster City.”
If you’ve watched enough softball then you know one thing as fact: A team needs a good, if not great pitcher to survive, particularly if jetting off to the state tournament is the goal. That’s not to take away from the other eight positions – they’re all important, obviously – but the pitcher stands alone on the team hierarchy.
Equate the pitcher to an NFL quarterback; the impact is comparable. And it’s been a long time since Webster City has had Mark Sanchez warming up in the bullpen.
“That’s totally true,” Dave Hilton, the Lynx Hall of Fame softball coach and the owner of state titles in 1988 and 2001, said of the comparison. “You could be good without a pitcher, but you’re not going to be great. There was a time in the ’90s where we had four pitchers at one time. Now that was something.”
Two of the greats – Jane (Teubert) Pruismann and Jenny (Wirtz) Cherry – were inducted into the WCHS Athletics Hall of Fame this week, and by their sides were Hilton and his longtime assistant Jim Adams, who was the brains behind the pitching factory for so many years.
Adams, Hilton says, belongs right beside him in the Hall of Fame.
“This guy did it for 30 years and he belongs (in the Hall of Fame), there’s no question about it,” Hilton said. “It’s a credit to him. He worked with pitchers every Sunday night in the winter for all those years. We’d have as many as 15 kids in there and it pays off over time.”
If Pruismann is the First Lady of the Circle of Fame – she did start it all off with a 39-1 record and a state title in 1988 – then Cherry is the Sergeant-at-Arms. She was fierce, her coaches say. She was the first to win 100 games in school history – she finished with 108 – and the only one of the greats to pitch in two state tournaments. She led the Lynx to top-five places in 1994 and 1995.
Stephanie Martin was a all-state first-teamer in 1996 and could easily have been a 100-game winner had she not been in Cherry’s shadow for three years. Meredith Tharp and Jessie Ubben sometimes get overlooked as well even though both were multiple-time all-state pitchers.
That’s how great this Lynx sorority has been.
And then there’s BreAnn VanDeer – the rock star. All she did, from 2001-05, was win a school-record 149 games – she’s ranked 35th all-time in the state – and become the first eighth grader to ever start and win a state championship game. Then there are those 1,282 career strikeouts, easily the best in school history, and five all-state accolades, including a first-team nod in 2004.
VanDeer is a legend, there’s no doubt. But she just followed the lead of the oh-so many that came before her.
“I didn’t know how much success our pitchers had, but I definitely remember watching the pitchers growing up,” VanDeer said. “Meredith Tharp and Jessie Ubben really stick out in my mind and I can remember my dad telling me how awesome they were.
“Once I got to high school I started talking to Coach Hilton a lot more and tried to get a lot of the history of pitchers before I was old enough to realize who they were. What number did they wear? What jersey did they have? What pitches did they throw? I wanted to know all that stuff because it made me feel like more a part of that.”
Kaitlyn Biere, the Lynx current pitcher and future member of the Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne softball program, has certainly added to the program’s mystique. She enters tonight’s game at Hampton-Dumont with 95 career victories, 957 career strikeouts and a lifetime earned run average of 1.22. She’s 22-3 this season and 15-1 in the North Central Conference with a paltry 0.28 ERA. In 100 league innings of work she’s allowed just four – four! – earned runs, or 13 fewer than her closest counterpart.
Unless the all-state committee is completely off its rocker in a couple of weeks, Biere will join VanDeer as a five-time member.
And now the question that everyone wants to know has to be put out there: Who was the best?
VanDeer bristles when she’s asked if it’s her.
“I have records because I pitched for a long time!” VanDeer said. “But I look at Jane Teubert … going 39-1 is just insane and that’s a record I would love to have. Or the fact that Wirtz went to state in back-to-back years, I never did that either.”
Hilton says he could rank them if he had to, but why?
“I’d put Biere in the top two or three, I really think that. She’s good,” he said. “She’s continuing the legacy.”
Howard isn’t about to touch the question with a 10-foot pole.
“You can’t judge somebody by whether they have a state championship or whether they’ve got 100 wins,” she said. “I can remember Meredith pitching against Woodward-Granger when they had (Hall of Famer) Jen Bice, or when Jenny Wirtz pitched against Carlisle. Biere, how many great games has she had against ranked teams? So they’ve all been great.”
And there, in a sort of roundabout way, is the answer: Who cares.
Just look back and enjoy the memories.
You bunch of softball gluttons.