Tonganoxie High seniors miss out on chance to leave mark on softball program
Before Tonganoxie’s softball season was canceled because of the pandemic, coach Stephanie Wittman went through the schedule with her team, marking off games she thought the team had a good chance to win with a green highlighter.
By the end of the session, all of the games on the schedule had been marked off.
“All of them were green, as in we could beat them,” THS senior Lauren Gray said. “That’s when it hit me that we could really do something this year.”
But the Chieftains never got the chance to see what they could do on the diamond. And the lost season was especially rough for a large group of seniors looking to end their careers on a high note. After falling to Eudora in the regional championship game last year, THS was determined to get back to the state tournament for the first time since 2018.
“I thought we could have gone all the way this season,” senior Bridget Knipp said. “We had such a great group of girls that just connected so well. Our atmosphere was just incredible.”
This year’s team would have had eight seniors: Gray, Knipp, Erin Gallagher, Samantha Reynolds, Ally Sparks, Haley Robinette, Destiny Dishman and Cadence Cole. The team’s manager, Alex Hartpence, was also a senior.
Five of the eight senior players plan to continue playing softball at the collegiate level — Gray (Highland Community College), Gallagher (St. Mary), Reynolds (KCKCC), Knipp (Metropolitan Community College) and Sparks (Ellsworth Community College).
But that doesn’t take away from the disappointment of missing out on this year.
“It was very disappointing just because we have so many seniors and this was it for us,” Reynolds said. “We definitely could have made it to state just because we were all so motivated after last year.”
Last spring, Gray led the way, serving as a catcher after playing all over the infield the previous two seasons. She recorded a .400 batting average, clubbing seven doubles and a pair of home runs. Knipp had 10 doubles and 10 triples at the plate.
In the circle, Reynolds posted a 2.40 ERA, striking out 70 batters in 70 total innings of work.
But Wittman said what made this team so special was its chemistry. Many of these seniors were attending softball camps together since the fifth grade, and that led to strong bonds both on and off the softball diamond.
“Every single one of my seniors is such a great person,” Wittman said. “They all bring such different personalities to our team and different skills. I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a team that likes each other off the field just as much as they do on the field.”
The Tonganoxie players are still staying connected while everyone has been at home because of the pandemic. But they and their coach still wonder about what could have been.
“Their time was cut short to really put their mark on the program, which I have no doubt this team was going to do,” Wittman said.