ELLSWORTH — It’s common for student-athletes in public schools to have the same teammates during their enrollment period. It’s also common for students to switch sports as they age and acquire new interests. So it’s a unique experience when more than half of a varsity softball team played the sport together for more than eight years.
That is the exact experience Ellsworth’s outgoing class of softball seniors had. The five seniors on the team had played together since their first swings in the batter’s box nearly a decade ago. They accomplished much during that span, such as winning state in 12U and making the state tournament last year as juniors. Their longest losing streak at the varsity level — three games — came as freshmen. They would lose back-to-back games only once more in their careers.
The seniors said they made a goal while in 12U to make it to state their senior year. While that wasn’t a possibility this year, they did play their final game at the state tournament after all.
“Playing together at state last year was an honor for them,” head softball coach Kenzie Diercks said. “It was making history in our program, we never have made it to state before in Ellsworth softball.”
Getting to the state tournament wasn’t taken for granted by the girls, however, even with finishing at the top in 12U. Putting in the work each year and challenging each other to be the best ballplayers possible were annual tasks. The seniors said the switch flipped when they felt everyone had their defined role with the team.
“The whole team fit together like a puzzle,” Avery O’Neil said. “Everyone had their spots and they were doing the best at their spots that they could — even the people on the bench were doing the best job cheering.”
“As soon as people just kind of accepted a role and did the best they could in that, we really succeeded and went farther than what has ever happened in history before,” Kaitlyn Nugent said.
For the senior Panthers, that meant going 55-14 over their three-year career. They were also two-time conference and regional champs and one-time section champs.
The successful run was noticed by the community as well. Senior centerfielder Holly Carlson said the support base around the team during its run to state was one of her favorite moments on varsity.
“We had people that you wouldn’t even think knew about softball there,” Carlson said. “The outfield fence was just covered in Ellsworth fans. It was insane. I would walk to my centerfield spot and people would just be cheering about plays we made. It pumped you up.”
The support base at its core came from within the team, however. One of the most recent showings of that came from Emma Florcyk. Last year the team started praying together after practices and before and after each game as part of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Florcyk, who plans on studying youth ministry in college, said she brought it up on the first day of practice last year.
“I said, ‘I don’t know if anyone is down for this, you don’t have to be scared to not do it if you’re not religious, you don’t have to participate,” Florcyk said. “Everybody was kind of weird about it at first but as the season went on it got really good. The team grew pretty fond of it after a while.”
She said she thought it ultimately brought the whole team closer together, like a puzzle. Much like how each player had their own defined role on the team, each senior had unique favorite memories as well. Everything from traveling softball when younger and staying at hotels to running over a catcher to win the regional. The constant between all of the favorite memories though is that each memory made was not an individual event but rather a team effort.
Similar to how the graduating seniors stuck together for over eight years to play softball, those memories made together will stick with them as well.