116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – From underdog to top dog.
OK, that might be a bit of hyperbole, but it still fits Coe softball’s transformation from a fifth-place pick in the preseason coaches poll to American Rivers Conference regular-season champion and the league’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division III tournament.
At the heart of the tight-knit team’s success is a team-first and don’t-back-down attitude.
“There are no stars on this team,” Coe Coach Diane Meyer said. “There are no superstars. They just fight. They never quit.”
The Kohawks will attempt to prove the regular-season feat wasn’t a fluke, hosting half of the ARC tournament this week at Clark Field. Top-seeded Coe (23-11) will face No. 8 Buena Vista (17-20) Thursday at noon. The winner will take on the winner between fourth-seeded Luther and No. 5 Simpson.
Grit has helped the Kohawks earn their fourth consecutive NCAA regional trip.
“We battle so much, whether it is in practice or games,” Coe senior Megan Weber said after the league title clincher at Wartburg on Saturday. “Obviously, we were (predicted) fifth. We just battled and battled and used that to fuel us.”
This season was accompanied with some questions. The young, inexperienced roster consists of just three seniors. Three starters from last year’s COVID-19 shortened season decided not to return to the team.
Players bonded together and progressed along with the season, overcoming a 6-5 start and injuries that altered the lineup and shrunk the rotation to just two arms. Meyer said it has been “pretty cool” various players can take the lead on any given day because they all have the ability to contribute.
“They’re a really solid group,” Meyer said. “They play so well and hard together. They understand that if they’re not getting a job done someone is going to step in and try to do it for them. The fact that they embrace that, rather than feel sorry for themselves, is a special thing on a team.
“They are very unselfish. They want what is best for our team. What’s good for the team is what matters most.”
Watch their interactions during the game. They encourage teammates having a tough day and dole out high-fives to players that do well. They want each other to be at their best.
“Every pitch and at-bat we’re talking to each other about what we’re seeing,” Weber said. “We’re always cheering for our teammates. Whether good things happen or bad things happen, we’ve always got each other’s backs. We pick each other up.”
Sophomore Skyler Stookey leads Coe’s offense. She owns a team-high .435 batting average, 47 hits, including seven home runs, and 33 RBIs. Madi Parson and Shaylee Dodd hit .381 and .368, while Ruby Kappeler comes in at a .350 clip.
Weber adds to the power numbers, hitting five home runs (two in the finale against the Knights) and a team-best nine doubles. She also has 30 RBIs. Senior Kelsey Hora has served as a defensive force in center field and has a .389 on-base percentage with 19 stolen bases as the Kohawks leadoff batter.
“I’ve shifted our lineup a lot this year, trying to find out what is going to work well,” Meyer said. “Quite frankly, I feel some days I can throw them in a hat, put them in the lineup however they came out and we’re going to be fine. They have strengths but they all really bring good things to the plate, offensively.
“I think we’re a good team up and down the lineup and every kid has an opportunity to shine. I have that confidence in all our kids.”
Meyer said the current squad reminds her of the 2017 Kohawks, another young team that reached the NCAA tournament. She sees the capability for the current underclassmen to develop similarly to the 2017 group that included multiple All-Americans.
“Those kids continued to get better,” Meyer said. “I feel our sophomore class is really strong. We have the potential to really grow over the next two seasons. I have a good feeling for us in the future. It’s not just today.”
Second-seeded Wartburg is hosting the other four-team pod, which includes Central, Dubuque and Nebraska Wesleyan. The winner of each pod will play in a best-of-three series for the tournament title Saturday and Sunday at the highest remaining seed.