June 4 had the potential to be an epic day for a handful of Elkhorn Area High seniors.
If everything had gone right, Morgan Hunter, Izzy Regner, Haley Remington and Kassidie Biefeld might have: gone to graduation practice that morning, won a softball game to reach the WIAA state tournament for the first time in school history that afternoon and walked across the stage in cap and gown that night.
Granted, everything—including avoiding the injury bug and dodging upsets—would have needed to be perfect. But given the Elks’ trajectory during the senior class’ first three years, a storybook ending was not out of the realm of possibility.
“As we got over the tough loss (in last year’s sectionals), it was ‘go time’ in all of our heads for this season,” Hunter said. “Even though we did win the Southern Lakes Conference championship and regional championship, we knew we had unfinished business to take care of.
“The main goal was to spend our graduation (celebrating a trip to) Goodman Diamond in Madison.”
Instead, the June 4 date has been wiped clear on the calendar. The softball season was canceled, and the graduation ceremony has tentatively been moved to August, all amidst the fallout of the global coronavirus pandemic.
It was an abrupt end for a program that has been consistently making progress under head coach Steve Remington since he took over in 2016.
They went 8-16 in that first season, one year after finishing right at .500. In the six seasons before that, though, they had won a total of 27 games.
When this year’s seniors were freshmen in 2017, Elkhorn lost six of its first eight games—though half of those losses were by one run. The Elks finished with a 14-10 record, including going 7-7 to finish third in the Southern Lakes.
“I remember during freshman year when we would strive to hold on and keep games close, not be 10-runned,” said Hunter, who started along with Remington and Regner right away freshman year. Remington was a second-team all-conference selection at infield that year and Regner an honorable mention pitcher.
“By sophomore year, even though we were young, we had strong team members at key positions that helped give our program the push it needed.”
The Elks inched forward, going 16-10 in 2018, when Remington moved up to first-team status and Regner was a second-team choice in the circle. Seeded sixth in their WIAA Division 1 playoff bracket, they knocked off third-seeded Fort Atkinson in a regional final.
Elkhorn had second-seeded Burlington on the ropes through six and a half innings of a sectional semifinal. The Demons trailed 6-1 going to the bottom of the seventh inning, but Burlington scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh and then one more in the eighth to win 7-6.
“We’re here, and we’re here for a long time now, that’s what I’m excited about,” Steve Remington said that day. “I’m a big believer that you have to take your lumps before you can go forward.”
The Elks continued progressing. Last season, they went 18-5, including 11-3 to win the SLC title. Remington and Regner were both first-team all-conference picks.
The team earned the top seed in the postseason but was stunned by fourth-seeded Beloit Memorial, 1-0, in a sectional semifinal.
That loss only fueled the fire through the offseason.
“We knew once we won the conference, it set the tone that we could accomplish even bigger things,” said Hunter, who was also a four-year varsity player in volleyball and basketball. “I’m so proud to be a part of this program.”
Hunter said she, Regner and Remington played softball together for nearly a decade. And even though she split from those two during recent travel softball summer seasons, she relished the time back together on the high school diamond.
“All of us had different experiences, but when we came together it was special and memorable,” Hunter said. “I think the biggest thing we learned over the past years was to never give up. Even when we were down during the game, someone would step up and we would find a way to win.
“Together we achieved more.”
The Class of 2020 players believed they could achieve even more this spring. Elkhorn has never made the state softball tournament, a drought they hoped to end.
“I’ve been super excited for this season, because I knew we could go really far,” Haley Remington said. “After late nights for basketball, we’d get done with practice around 7, and my dad would leave the batting cages open so we could go hit and get those extra swings in.”
Steve Remington lamented that the senior group will never get its final shot to add to their achievements.
“We had four seniors that had been there from the beginning when I took over and the program wasn’t relevant. They were eighth-graders then,” he said. “They came in and went to work. They all played off the bat. And it’s really turned the program around. It’s really disappointing they didn’t get a shot.”
All four, though, have bright futures.
Haley Remington will play softball for Division II Missouri-St. Louis. Regner is headed to St. Xavier University, an NAIA program out of Chicago. Hunter intends to play softball at Division III University of Dubuque. And Biefeld, who was part of the Elks’ highly successful competitive cheer team, will cheer at UW-Stevens Point.
Hunter and her classmates are also doing their best to find some silver linings despite the changes in their June 4 plans.
“We will technically still be reigning SLC champs for another year,” she said. “Until someone challenges us in 2021.”