CEDAR RAPIDS - The Cedar Rapids Kennedy girls' swimming team has never shied away from tough competition.
The Cougars received a healthy dose of it at their invitational.
Kennedy won two events, was runner-up in three more and ... »
Cedar Rapids Prairie made its transformation last year.
Now, Washington and Kennedy have followed. Linn-Mar is back. Jefferson and Xavier are still themselves.
In other words, it’s winners all around for the six Metro softball teams in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
“It seems like everybody is getting better,” said Brian Erbe, in his second year at tradition-rich Jefferson after a successful 10-year run at Xavier. “Kids are playing more ball in the spring.
“I think softball has become important again.”
Two years ago, the six Metro MVC teams combined for a .444 winning percentage. It rose to .519 last year. This year, it’s .739 (88-31).
Long the city’s softball kingpin, Jefferson is ranked fourth in Class 5A, leads the MVC Mississippi Division and owns a 16-4 record.
Xavier (16-2), rated No. 6 in 4A, is the Valley Division leader and already has swept the J-Hawks for the first time ever.
Linn-Mar was among the state’s top programs in the 2000s before sliding somewhat. The Lions were 36-40 the last two seasons, but are 15-6 this year behind first-year coach John Begley and the Sommer twins.
“The best thing about this bunch is that everybody’s getting along,” Begley said.
Begley previously turned around programs at Solon and Jesup. This is his first time as a big-school coach.
“Everybody at this level has good players,” he said. “Even the teams that are losing, they have some good players, just not as many of them.”
The Sommers — Katie and Kristie — moved to Marion from Dubuque before their senior year. Katie is batting .609 with 37 runs and 38 stolen bases.
That leaves Prairie, Washington and Kennedy, three programs with limited success this decade.
Prairie (16-7) made its turnaround last year, going from 8-28 to 29-16 and a sixth-place finish in its first state tournament.
Washington (13-4) and Kennedy (12-8) are both a win away from matching their victory totals from 2013. The Warriors are two years removed from a 4-35 campaign.
The Metro landscape has been filled with coaching changes recently.
Erbe, Xavier’s Nikki Price and Prairie’s Joe Yegge are in their second season at their respective schools. Begley, Kennedy’s Dan Gratz and Washington’s Erin Jones are newbies as head coaches at their current schools.
“There’s a lot of new, young energy out there,” Erbe said. “There are young coaches with a lot of enthusiasm.”
MONDAY IS PAIRINGS DAY
The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union has announced that it will release postseason pairings Monday.
Regionals open July 7 in Class 1A, July 8 in 2A and 3A and July 10 in 4A and 5A. Regional finals are July 14 in the smaller three classes, July 15 in the larger two.
The state tournament is July 21-25 at the Rogers Sports Complex, Fort Dodge.
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