TROY MILLS — You could say that North Linn’s transformation into state softball powerhouse began in a shed.
Located at the Flanagan residence, northwest of Coggon, the structure originally was built as a lumber shed. Now, it contains a hardwood floor, two basketball hoops, a pitching machine and a batting cage.
Space for a pitcher and a catcher to train. A place for Abby and Grace Flanagan to blossom.
“It’s a great place,” said Abby Flanagan, the elder of the senior twins by 10 minutes. “But it’s not the same as being outside.”
The lights go on statewide Monday, and the Lynx (42-4 last season) open with a Tri-Rivers Conference doubleheader at home against Midland.
It’s the first step in what they hope will be a second consecutive state-championship journey. They open the season ranked No. 1 in Class 2A.
Nine starters return from a squad that won 25 of its final 26 games last year. The Lynx outscored their three state-tournament opponents by a 17-1 margin, including a 3-0 win over Alta-Aurelia in the title game.
Yes, they’re loaded.
“I’ve told people this is the best team, top to bottom, that I’ve ever had,” said Coach Marv Porter, an assistant at Alburnett during two championship seasons (1999 and 2005), and the pilot of North Linn’s title trek in 2019.
“I think it’s the truth.”
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The Lynx have it all. Speed at the top of the order (see Hannah Bridgewater and Kaitlyn Sommerfelt). Muscle in the middle of the lineup (the Flanagans, plus Jill Smith and Natalie Gallery). An elite battery — Abby Flanagan (pitcher) and Grace Flanagan (catcher) were first-team all-staters last year.
Plus, depth and enough intrasquad competition to make the veterans uneasy.
“We’ve got some great players coming in, and we have two or three girls sitting on our bench that could be starting for most teams,” said Porter, 77.
“I notice that the girls that have played their positions in the past, they’re asking for more practice. They’re being pushed, and that’s good.”
Abby Flanagan posted a 29-2 record last season with a 0.55 ERA and 317 strikeouts. Grace Flanagan calls the pitches.
“My favorite pitch to call is the riseball,” Grace said. “(Abby’s) other pitches are dependable too. But I like the riseball. I try not to call it too much.”
Abby shakes her off occasionally, “but not very often,” she said. “The catcher is supposed to be in charge.”
Porter said, “The catcher makes the pitcher, and Grace is one of the best around. She’s a talker, and a doer.”
The Flanagans and Bridgewater were starters on North Linn’s state-championship basketball team in March. So they’ve developed a deserved reputation as winners.
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There was a legitimate fear that COVID-19 would delete their opportunity this summer to close out their high school careers with another title.
“I’m really glad we have this opportunity,” Abby said. “For a while, it didn’t look too good.”
On May 20, Gov. Kim Reynolds gave the go-ahead for summer sports, and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union and the Iowa High School Athletic Association followed. Practice began June 1.
“We definitely want to do again what we did last year,” said Bridgewater, who will play at Upper Iowa University. “Right now, we just want to get better.
“We have to savor every day, because it’s coming to an end soon.”
It will for the seniors — Bridgewater, Gallery and the Flanagans. And it will for Porter, who will hang it up at the conclusion of the season.
“It’s not that I don’t enjoy the game. I really do,” Porter said. “It’s the stuff you have to go through to get everything ready.
“This is it. No more. My body is telling me I’ve had enough.”
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