COLUMN: After 5 years, Biere and Howard share more than a player-coach bond
Always stoic when wearing her coach’s hat, Jess Howard held her emotions in check as she dissected her 12th-ranked Webster City softball team’s 4-1 loss to Ballard in a Class 4A regional semifinal on a pleasant and breezy evening on Saturday.
Short answers. To the point. Blunt. No sugarcoating. That’s Howard.
But it took just two words – Kaitlyn Biere – to send the coach reeling. And then there was silence as she turned away, stared off into the distance and lost the inner battle with her emotions.
“She’s been great,” Howard said after a moment as she tried unsuccessfully to choke back the tears. “I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
At that same moment, just 10 yards away inside the Lynx dugout, Biere – Webster City’s soon-to-be five-time all-state pitcher – heard her name mentioned and turned towards Howard. She saw the sadness and the tears, and the chain reaction was obvious.
Immediately, coach and player were both consumed by reality – it was over.
“I’ve spent so much time with her,” Biere said a few moments later as she tried to wipe the dripping Mascara from her face. “(Howard) is more than a coach. She’s a friend and a role model. She’s just great.”
In many ways, Howard and Biere grew up together, learned together, on the softball diamond. Howard’s first year in command in 2009 coincided with the budding career of a shy and slender eighth-grader with a funky, yet effective pitching motion.
“We started together,” Biere said. “I’ve learned so much from her in the past five years … it’s going to be sad to go on without her.”
Five years later they have plenty of memories to last a lifetime. All of those off-season weight room training hours that turned Biere into a physical force – one imposing enough to earn a Division I scholarship to Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
They captured North Central Conference championships together. Totaled up, Webster City won 103 games over the past five summers, 98 with Biere in the pitcher’s circle. Her career came to a close with 990 strikeouts, and had it not been for seven games cancelled this season because of the rain (thanks Mother Nature), she surely would have become just the third pitcher in Lynx history to win 100 games and only the second to eclipse 1,000 strikeouts.
Biere authored a 25-4 record with a 0.96 earned run average during this senior stint. She fanned 212 batters and went 56 innings late in the regular season without giving up an earned run.
Oh, and there were those 11 home runs she bashed – a single-season school record that ranked her among the state’s leaders.
Player and coach did that together.
The numbers meant nothing to either of them though in the fading sky Saturday night. But as the rest of the team milled about near the bus, there they were, alone together, in the dugout.
They shared one last hug as player and coach, student and teacher.
It wasn’t a goodbye. It was until we see each other again.