The Whitewater softball team kept finding itself near the bottom of the Rock Valley Conference standings.
The Whippets followed up last-place finishes in 2016 and 2017 in the Rock Valley with a bottom-half finish in 2018.
Momentum began to swing last spring. The Whippets won 14 conference games and tied for second place in the Rock.
A key reason for that turnaround is this year’s senior class.
Whitewater had four players named to the RVC’s first team in 2019, three of which are now seniors: Bryce Hibbs, Morgan Gransee and Alyssa Schumacher.
That senior group, which also includes Jacee Johnson, was hoping to build off their turnaround year this spring.
“Our senior class did a good job helping the program,” Hibbs said. “Especially with making a name for ourselves. People were excited this was our senior year.”
All four of Whitewater’s seniors were set to be four-year varsity players for the Whippets. In their first two seasons, Whitewater went a combined 14-32. With experience under their belt as juniors, the Whippets finished 16-7 overall and 14-4 in the RVC.
“After three years of developing, this was our final year we could show what we can do,” Schumacher said.
“This year was going to be the big year when we proved ourselves,” Gransee added.
With the season canceled, the seniors will not be able to show off their progress in their final year.
But their junior season left a blueprint for success for Whitewater to try and emulate in the future.
“We found out how to work together as a team better,” Gransee said. “Each individual player had their own strengths. By the third season, we were able to find how to bring those all together.”
Gransee led Whitewater in hits (39) and runs (31). She batted .448 and only struck out twice out of the leadoff spot in the batting order.
“This past year you could notice a difference in maturity and strength,” Whitewater head coach Ron Sdano said.
“We knew she was a good contact hitter, but she started putting the ball in play with authority. I was looking forward to this year with her.”
Hibbs was second on the team in hits with 38, was the team leader in doubles (12) and triples (3) and tied for a team-best with three home runs.
Hibbs’ breakout junior season came after she was out her sophomore year with a torn ACL.
“She was our No. 3 hitter and our most explosive as far as power goes,” Sdano said. “I expected big things for her.”
Although Schumacher was limited to just 13 games last season, she made her impact felt when she took the field. She led the Whippets with a school-record .634 batting average and a 1.000 slugging percentage. Schumacher tied Hibbs with three home runs and struck out just once on the season.
“She just impacts the game,” Sdano said. “You get runners on base in front of her, she’s getting the ball in play somewhere and usually hits it pretty hard. As a catcher, she just controls the game back there.
“She gives you leadership, clutch hitting. She put the ball in play. If there comes a time where you want one person up to bat, she’s the one you want.”
Even if the season was not canceled, the Whippets would have been without Schumacher. The star catcher tore her ACL during the basketball season.
“I had to accept that I wasn’t playing this year back in February,” Schumacher said. “When I first got injured, I had to accept that I was out for my senior year. So it’s been a little easier through all this.”
Plus, Schumacher signed a National Letter of Intent to play softball at St. Ambrose University, a program at the NAIA level, meaning four more years on the diamond. Gransee and Hibbs will not play collegiately.
“For me and Morgan, this was our only sport,” Hibbs said. “So we never got a senior night. I was really looking forward to that, getting recognized in my only senior sport. I’ll miss out on that the most.”
Even though the group will not get a senior night, it is not hard to recognize what it has accomplished.
“When this senior group came in as freshmen, we felt when they were juniors and seniors we were going to finally do something,” Sdano said.
“Between this group and the one before them, they had some talent. I will definitely remember that and will miss that. They were really dedicated.”