116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — By the end of last season, their tanks had run dry.
There wasn’t much energy. There wasn’t much elevating. And there certainly wasn’t much celebrating.
“Muscatine just had a lot more energy than we did (in a Class 5A regional final),” Ayana Lindsey said. “But this is a new year.”
A new softball season begins for Iowa City High on Tuesday, with a Mississippi Valley Conference doubleheader at Iowa City Liberty. The Little Hawks have the talent and experience to create a special summer.
They also have the purpose.
“We’re shooting for the stars,” said Lindsey, part of a senior class that has been the Little Hawks’ heart for what seems like forever.
That nucleus — Lindsey, Ella Cook and Carey Koenig — has combined for 87 career home runs (thus, the “Elevate and Celebrate” theme that has accompanied the program in recent years) as City High joined the ranks of the elite in Class 5A.
The Little Hawks advanced to state in 2018, then finished third in 2019. Bigger things were expected last year, but they dropped three of their last four games, including that regional final to Muscatine.
City finished 18-5.
“COVID kind of threw a wrench in our plans,” Coach Jeff Koenig said. “It didn’t show early in the season, but I think we got tired.”
“We were coming off a third-place finish and we came out of the gate with a lot of enthusiasm, but it could only take us so far, and we started to second-guess ourselves.”
But, like Lindsey said, it’s a new year. And there are parallels between this year’s City High team and the 2020 Cedar Rapids Kennedy squad that left its previous season’s disappointment behind and won a state championship.
“Oh yeah, 100 percent,” Coach Koenig said. “As bad as the end of last year was, these girls took it to heart. They want that to be us this year.
“After we lost to Muscatine, a few of them said, ‘Next year starts tomorrow for us.’ We’ve got the parts. Everybody has turned their game up a little.”
City’s “big three” are among a cast of seven returning starters, joining juniors Makayla Ribble, Elyse Rios, Georgia Kimm and Libby Frantz.
Lindsey (a Northwestern University signee) and Koenig (Drake) were first-team all-state picks last season; Cook (tentatively committed to St. Thomas, Minn.) was a second-teamer.
The Little Hawks’ primary weapon has been their power and the plate. In the past two seasons, they have clubbed 105 home runs, or 1.57 per game.
“We lift hard, and we lift heavy,” Cook said. "We take pride in hitting the ball hard.”
“Even if we’re not hitting home runs, if we hit the ball hard, something good is going to happen,” Lindsey said.
Lindsey and Cook will be doing the majority of the pitching again. Carey Koenig, their catcher and Jeff Koenig’s daughter, said that both have upped their game in the offseason.
“Their speed is better,” Koenig said. “They’re getting movement, working on their changeups.”
This is Coach Koenig’s seventh season at City (his teams are 121-115 overall, 54-13 in the past two seasons). The program is in a good place.
Now, the Little Hawks hope to reach a level they’ve never been before.
“We’re no longer in a rebuilding mode,” Cook said. "Everybody knows what the expectations are, a state championship.
“Anything less than that, at least to me, would be a letdown.”