What do great senior leadership and no-fear youngsters get you? A conference championship
With a smirk on his face, but not one bit of arrogance in his voice, Dylan Steen called me out late Monday night.
To my face and without hesitation. And I loved it.
“I don’t want to say I told you so, but I remember we were sitting here at picture day (in May) and you asked me if I thought we could be competitive (in the North Central Conference) and I remember saying that I thought we should win it,” Steen said to me as I was shaking my head in the affirmative. “That was kind of our mentality all year. We knew if we played our best that we could win it.”
I’ll admit it, I doubted Steen when he made those remarks back before the first pitch was thrown. A good goal to have, I thought at the time, but there was no way this Webster City baseball team was going to win a conference championship.
And then I shifted uncomfortably throughout the Lynx season opener at Woodward-Granger — a 13-7 loss on May 22 that was filled with mistakes, both mental and physical. I walked to my car that night thinking this was a six- or seven-win team. Tops.
Here we are a little less than two months later and this WCHS team — one that relies so heavily on a large swath of kids that are a year or more away from possessing a driver’s license — is 19-9 and a conference champion for the second time in three years.
“To see where we were, mentally and physically, in that Woodward-Granger game and to see how we’ve grown … words can’t really put it together,” WCHS head coach Adison Kehoe said.
In the Lynx NCC title-clinching 11-3 victory over Iowa Falls-Alden on Monday, Kehoe had two eighth graders (Ty McKinney and CJ Hisler), three freshmen (Devon Stoakes, Beau Klaver and Zach Dyvig) and two sophomores (Tyler Olson and Sean Carver) in his starting lineup. Connor Hanson, another eighth grader, was a starter throughout the season as well before he injured his hip late in the season.
These Baby Lynx skipped crawling. Heck, they bypassed walking too and went straight to a full-out sprint.
Is this group too young to know it’s not supposed to happen this fast? Maybe, but Kehoe’s “young bucks” played without fear all season long. There were plenty of mistakes, plenty of learning moments along the way, but they never doubted themselves, not outwardly anyway.
“All of these young guys, it’s so awesome,” Steen said. “It’s really cool seeing them get comfortable at the varsity level and it will be really cool to see them continue to grow.”
If the youngsters elected a leader it would undoubtedly be Olson. He’s like Gumby out there on the mound and makes pitching look effortless. At 10-1 with a 0.54 ERA, he’s a bona fide all-state candidate right now and when you think about what he could accomplish over the next two years if he stays healthy …
Let’s just say I’m looking forward to covering it.
And then there are the stalwarts, the leaders, the players who took the underclassmen under their wings and taught them how to fly.
I’m talking about you, Dylan Steen. About you, Caleb Olson. About you, Carson Struchen. And about you, Jacob Hirsch.
This isn’t a huge senior class, not like the crop of five starters and six total players lost off the 2018 team that finished first and second in the NCC over their final two seasons. But the Class of 2019 was never bothered by what some deemed a rebuilding project.
“Underdogs are always a good story, but I wouldn’t call us an underdog,” Caleb Olson said. “I’ve thought we were the top dog all season. But this means a little more (than the 2017 NCC title) because we’ve got so many young guys. It shows how great the future is for this program.”
Lost in the shuffle somewhat is Kehoe himself, still young himself in the coaching ranks. You’re fooling yourself if you think it’s simply a coincidence that WCHS has won two conference crowns and finished second in his three seasons in charge of the program. Coaches matter, something he proves with every lineup card he fills out.
Want some statistical proof? Wrap your brain around this: WCHS has won 55 games since Kehoe took over. The six seasons prior, the Lynx won just 53. And on Friday, when the Lynx battle longtime rival Humboldt in a Class 3A district semifinal, the program will attempt to reach 20 wins for the first time this century.
Talented youngsters who obviously aren’t enamored or intimidated by the bright lights? Check.
A group of seniors that not only know how to play, but also lead? Check.
The right guy in charge pulling all of the strings? Check.
And one sports writer that now freely admits he was a complete fool? Double check.