The Rebuild of the Lady Warriors Softball Program

Connor Hurst, Author

 

The Lady Warriors just finished 4th in the District 4 Championship tournament, bringing back state hardware to Warrenton for the first time in six years. After winning the 2015 and 2016 Missouri State Softball Championships, it took the Lady Warriors six years to find themselves back in Springfield. The team, led by First Team All Conference third baseman Mackenzie Hurst (senior) and the GAC North Player of the Year Kylie Witthaus (junior), finished their historical season 16-10, ranked fourth out of 84 District 4 teams. This was an underdog story as the team was .500 through 10 games. “After that loss (to Orchard Farm), a new fire was fueled. I always knew the talent was there, but it was the want. After that game, the girls came out and showed that they wanted it more than any other team,” commented senior manager Connor Hurst. “I’ve never been a part of a culture like this; we’re more than a team, we’re a family. ”

 After the 2020 season came to a wrap for the Warriors, many spectators expected a complete rebuild of the program, and to not compete at a high level for years to come. The Lady Warriors lost six starting seniors following that 2020 season, when they finished an incredible 17-6, but were knocked out in the second round of districts in a 7-1 loss to Warrensburg. 

The Lady Warriors came into the 2021 season with three starting seniors, including All State pitcher Kathryn McChristy. The pressure was off and it seemed as if the negativity had left the program. From the start, the girls recognized how well they meshed with one another. The numbers had dropped from the previous year with having just enough for a varsity squad and although reps were lost at the JV level, it resulted in a closer bond between the players. The girls were always together. The entire team was able to do drills together and bond during them. Despite this bond that the girls developed, they started off their year 0-4, not claiming a single win at the annual Troy tournament. Varsity Assistant Coach Matt Dodge said, “That team was not going to accept losing as a possible outcome. After that (going 0-4 on Saturday at the Troy Tournament to start the season) you could see a change. It became less about individual performances, and more about doing whatever the team needed in any given situation . . . winning and, more importantly, winning together.” From that point on, every rep mattered for that team.  They worked to prove that they were the best team in the state, taking one game at a time, and carrying the momentum from each win. “As the wins piled up, the good energy did as well,” Dodge stated. The Lady Warriors went on to finish 18-11, winning 13 of their last 15 games. This streak was severed by a 2-1 loss in the state semifinal game that would send Incarnate Ward to the Final Four. The girls were proud of what they accomplished that year, turning around their season and bringing the District Championship back to their high school, but for most in the program, the work was not done. 

Going into the 2022 season, the Warriors would be losing three college bound athletes resulting in only three returning starters to see the field. Although these losses forced the team to compete nearly from scratch, the energy and bond of the players was not affected.  “(Going into this season) We lost three huge pieces of the team in our graduating seniors. A class that saw all three win All District honors, two of which went on to be named All Staters. That was always going to be a tough thing to rebound from, no matter how you look at it,” Dodge commented on the situation. The season for the Lady Warriors started off rough, hitting rock bottom after losing to Orchard Farms for the first time in nearly 20 years. “The team felt forced at that point, we were trying to do too much. The priority had slipped from competing and been more focused on the bond, creating this forced feeling. After that game, things changed. Leadership on the team stepped up creating the natural bond we had the previous year, while the young team, filled with five underclassman starters, found their stride as players found their role on the team. It went back to the ‘what can I do for my team?’ mindset that we wanted.” Connor Hurst explained when asked what changed midseason. Following this loss, the Lady Warriors found their stride. Every player in that program contributed to that postseason stride in their own way and every player stepped up when they needed to. The Warriors found their way to being ranked the one seed in their district after their 12-8 finish while also claiming the conference crown for the sixth year in a row. After winning the district title, the Warriors got their revenge against Incarnate Ward, defeating the team 2-1 with a walk off single in the bottom of the seventh, claiming their spot in the Final Four tournament in Springfield. The Lady Warriors would go on to fall short against Kearney in Springifield. After the Warriors rallied back to tie the game in the sixth, Kearney put up three go ahead runs to take the lead in the seventh. This would place Warrenton in the third place game against Washington, where they would end their historical season in a defeat, claiming fourth place out of 84 Missouri Class 4 teams.

After returning home from their journey to Springfield, the Warriors got right back to work. The team’s offseason training has already begun as they train and prepare to make their way back to history. The program will lose two seniors going into this season. All Region third baseman Mackenzie Hurst has committed to continue her academic and athletic career at SCCC. “It’s a big loss to the program. She’s been our leader on and off the field since she entered the program, as she was a varsity starter as a freshman. Nobody will truly be able to fill her shoes, but I hope one of our six current juniors will be able to step up into her leadership role,” the program’s other senior Connor Hurst commented. When asked about the Hurst seniors, Matt Dodge explained, “Losing both of them will be tough. Last year, when we lost our three seniors, we saw a collective effort from our upperclassmen to set the example that they needed to in order to fill the void those three left behind. They did a great job following through to make sure they set the necessary tone, and the underclassmen came ready to listen, learn, and work. Mack and Connor were a big part of that group of upperclassmen making that push. We’ll need more of the same next year losing the both of them. Filling their roles in terms of leadership, energy, and competitiveness won’t be easy, but we’re confident in the girls’ ability to step up once again.”

The numbers in the program are expected to continue to grow after the Final Four finish. The future looks bright for the program as these competitive athletes continue to duplicate and grow together. The team, led by Head Coach Chad Berrey, is seeking another state bound season.