Prep Softball

City High softball's triple threat

HS journalism: Freshmen Carey Koenig, Ayana Lindsey and Ella Cook have set big goals

City High freshmen Ella Cook, Carey Koenig and Ayana Lindsey have high hopes for the Little Hawk program. (Addy Smith/City High senior)
City High freshmen Ella Cook, Carey Koenig and Ayana Lindsey have high hopes for the Little Hawk program. (Addy Smith/City High senior)

IOWA CITY — It would be a mistake to stereotype these three as ordinary freshman girls.

Instead of ordinary trivialities, the trio of Carey Koenig, Ayana Lindsey and Ella Cook have the future of an entire softball program at the forefront their mind.

Last summer, the threesome led the City High’s softball team to its most successful season in more than a decade.

“It was odd that there were three eighth-graders that were playing such a big role on a varsity team,” Koenig said.

Even with their grand ambitions, they still are just 14 years old. They eat Smuckers Uncrustable sandwiches for lunch, pausing between bites to clear their braces-embellished teeth of the “extra gooey” peanut butter filling. They don T-shirts and athletic shorts so they can head straight to the lifting room after school.

Before their first day in high school, the eighth-graders had led the Little Hawks to their first winning season in more than 10 years, sweeping rival West High for the first time since before the trio was born.

All three have dabbled in most other conventional sports, but softball always has been different to them.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know why. It’s just so much fun to play,” Koenig said, cracking a wide smile in admiration. “It’s just like fun, I don’t know. I’ve never really had that connection with any other sport, so softball was just the one.”

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All three girls began playing T-ball as kindergartners and later combined forces as third-graders on a recreation league team under the direction of Jeff Koenig. Now, six years later, only the name of their team has changed.

Ella Cook remembers the time she first realized her goal of making the City High softball team a winning program.

“Our club team when we were in elementary school would scrimmage the sophomore and JV City High teams and we’d beat them handily,” she said. “It was weird to see that they were playing at such a slow level when we were used to playing at such a high level. We wanted to just bring the program back up.”

The trio attended high school skill practices as grade-schoolers. By the time seventh grade rolled around and Jeff Koenig became the head varsity coach, they were traveling with the team, sitting in the dugout, riding the bus and practicing with a team they had, by then, grown to become “familiar.”

“We bought into the program young and we’re the group that’s starting to rebuild and make it so that once we leave, the legacy of our team will continue with the younger generation,” Koenig said. “We’re just here to rebuild this program and get it back up to where it should be.”

After years of preparation for their varsity debut, Lindsey, Koenig and Cook came in with their sights on one thing and one thing only — winning.

“We brought in that competitiveness that they needed,” Cook said. “We weren’t there to just have fun, that this could be a joke. We were there to compete, win games and take care of business.”

Although the eighth-graders had been submerged in the City High softball program since they were children, they had never actually played an official inning in a high school softball game. They said they had to remind themselves that the game was no different from what they were used to playing, that they didn’t need to change a thing.

Soon, they could compete with players four years their senior.

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“It was one of our first games we were playing No. 1-ranked Pleasant Valley, who happened to be the state champion the previous year,” Cook said. “I got up to bat, my first at bat, and I hit a home run. It was just like, ‘I just hit a home run off the No. 1-ranked pitcher,’ which gave me so much confidence for the rest of the season.”

The 2017 warm-up T-shirts consisted of a plain white T-shirt with the simple phrase “Elevate and Celebrate” across the front. Coach Koenig adopted the motto from one of the most successful softball programs in the sport’s history — the University of Alabama. “Elevating” the ball means hitting home runs and then “celebrating” accordingly. With the help of the newly cherished motto, the team broke the school record of 26 home runs and 70 doubles.

Although things weren’t smooth-sailing from the get-go (the first doubleheader of the season, City was run-ruled by Davenport North), the team went on to win six of the next eight games, and fans soon started to pay close attention. When City played North in the regional quarterfinal, the score was 16-4 in favor of the Little Hawks.

“This year, things really started to come together and we had faith in each other and we started to believe in each other and people started to see that we can be successful,” Koenig said. “The whole mentality of City High softball started to change.”

When asked why Koenig thinks last season was the year for City High softball’s story to change, she said, “I think we just had to set the pace for the team.”

The threesome anticipates other players with a shared level of dedication will soon join them over the remainder of their City High careers.

“There’s other people that are right up with our intensity coming up in the ranks and the people that are already above us are able to play, too,” Koenig said. “I think that if we keep playing as a team, there’s nobody that can really stop us.”

As for this upcoming season, the girls are nowhere near satisfied. Each will spit out just exactly what they are vying to get done, no questions asked.

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For Lindsey, 150 strikeouts to top her previous 97. Koenig wants to bat above .500 as a team and to be able to throw runners out again after arm surgery. Cook pulls out her phone, heads to notes, and says, “How much time do you have?” Her list includes a conference championship, No. 2 seed in the playoffs, hitting higher than .500 as a team, never getting swept and a trip to Fort Dodge for the state tournament — in that order.

“We want to put the records up there that aren’t going to be broken over and over again,” Cook said. “We want to be remembered.”

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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