116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MOUNT VERNON — A few minutes at an early-season practice here is all it takes.
This is a softball team that is wired a little bit different.
Sure, the talent pops out. The powerful bats, the slick gloves, the strong arms.
Of course, there is determination after a state runner-up finish last year. This was a team that held a 5-1 lead over mighty Davenport Assumption after four innings before it got away, and that still stings.
But what makes the Mount Vernon Mustangs a rare breed is something you won’t find on Bound or in a program. You have to see it in person.
It’s love. It’s joy.
You see it when player after player thanks Coach Robin Brand as they leave practice. You hear it when a chorus of cheers arises when a player makes a running catch on the warning track.
“The first Saturday of practice was going to be eighth-graders only, and the rest of the team said, ‘No, we want to practice, too,’” said Brand, who is starting her 11th season as the Mustangs’ head coach.
“The first wave came in at 6 in the morning. They said they wanted to be here and see the sun rise. Other groups came in after that and we were done by 9.
“They just love being around each other.”
Anybody can talk about “culture” or “chemistry,” but the Mustangs seem to live to up their words.
“(Culture) is a part of everything,” said senior outfielder Nadia Telecky, one of three returning Class 3A first-team all-staters. “It’s not about me. I’m going to make this play for my team. I’m going to pick up this bucket of balls for my coach.”
Maia Bentley said, “I think it’s just the way it is here. I help in a third-grade class, and the way those kids acknowledge their teacher, how they come in and say hi, you see it even there.”
One of the state’s top soccer players, Bentley is one of many Mustangs who spent the first two weeks of softball practice hopping from sport to sport.
“It’s kind of wild, people coming in and out all the time,” said Bentley, who has scored more than 100 career soccer goals and will play that sport at Drake University.
The aforementioned three first-team all-staters — Bentley (.504, 30 extra-base hits, 49 runs, 46 RBIs in 2021), Telecky (.469, 57 runs, 42 RBIs, 35 steals) and Jenna Sprague (27-3, 1.20 ERA, 252 strikeouts) — highlight a stacked returning cast.
Nine of 10 starters return from a squad that finished 36-5. Mount Vernon likely will start the season ranked No. 2 in Class 3A behind Assumption, which scored nine runs in its last two at-bats to top the Mustangs, 10-5, in the 3A title game last year.
“We were right there, and that drives you,” Brand said. “We’ve got to let it go and move on. But this brings a fire inside you and drives you.”
“I think about last year quite a bit,” Bentley said. “What I think about most is what got us there, and there was a lot to be proud of.”
With all of last year’s position players back except for one outfield spot, you’d think competition would be cutthroat. Not so, Brand insists.
“These guys are each other’s biggest supporters,” Brand said. “We’ve got people vying for an outfield spot and a DP spot, and they are each other’s biggest fans. When one makes a great catch, the others are screaming for them.”
Telecky is the granddaughter of the late Gary Stamp, who elevated the Mount Vernon program and coached the Mustangs to their first two state-tournament appearances (in 2009 and 2010).
“It’s incredibly cool being a part of this now,” said Telecky, whose mother Paige pitched Lisbon to three straight state titles in the mid-1990s. “He was the one who kind of turned this thing around.”
And now, the Mustangs are soaring even higher under Brand. They have advanced to state six times in the last seven years.
They’ll be playing their home games this summer on a state-of-the-art turf field.
“It’s beautiful, I love it,” Telecky said. “The ball moves fast.”
The first eight games are at home, starting with a Wamac Conference doubleheader Monday against Vinton-Shellsburg.
The last game, the Mustangs hope, will be at Fort Dodge. Again.
“We want to get back to where we were, and we want to finish in a big way,” Bentley said.