The Creston softball team, which won a share of the Hawkeye 10 Conference championship this season, celebrated its strong season at the team's postseason awards banquet in the Creston High School commons on Friday.
For a team with no seniors, there's still plenty to be optimistic about for next year, as well.
"Usually you have some tears there and some final goodbyes (with seniors), but not the case," head coach Mike McCabe said. "This group will have designs on trying to get that sixth conference championship in the last seven years.
"Our conference was young, though. There will be a lot of good players returning. It will be pretty competitive again. We'll kind of have to turn the page. Maybe enjoy it for a little bit longer, but then move on and be ready to go for a new group, even though it's the same group."
McCabe said he was glad this group of players, led by a junior class that includes Haylee LaMasters, Brenna Baker and Natalie Mostek, was able to claim a conference championship.
"This was the core group of kids that kind of had to follow two pretty good groups two and three years ago, with Carla (Smith) and Shelby (Kramer) and then of course Maddie (Haines), Madison (Frain) and Katlin (Briley).
"They got a lot of accolades and won some titles, and this group was kind of the forgotten group. I thought they made a great run at it last year until the final week and set it as a goal this year to do that. I'm really proud of them. I think they felt a little justification that they carried on a little bit of tradition."
After dealing with numerous injuries during the offseason, an early start to the conference season this year provided added pressure on the Panther team.
LaMasters dealt with a wrist injury during the offseason, while Baker suffered a knee injury in basketball. Taylor Briley suffered a concussion during basketball and had a leg injury during track. Freshman Hannah Hood, who figured to play a big part for the Panthers this year, had shoulder surgery and missed the entire season.
After a 1-3 start to the conference season, the Panthers finally rounded into form and reeled off 16 straight conference victories.
"We had LC, Glenwood and Harlan right out of the chute," McCabe said. "Three of the favorites. We were 1-3 and then boom. Who would have thunk?"
McCabe also praised sophomore Jami Sickels, who won the varsity team's Most Improved Player Award.
Sickels took her batting average from .185 a year ago to .411 this year.
"Just a remarkable job," McCabe said. "I kind of pointed her out. I said it's not by accident. She really listens to what you're saying, tries to make corrections and work at it. Even if it's something that's awkward and doesn't feel comfortable, she stays at it and works. I think the proof is in the pudding there."
McCabe also handed out a Coaches' Award to Hood.
"We do that when we feel a kid is deserving," he said. "Hannah had that major surgery, I think it was on March 26, on her shoulder. She knew she was not going to get to do anything, and yet who was there every Sunday for hitting club? Hannah. Who's there every morning for practice? Her. It was a real testament to her commitment and wanting to be a part of the team."
LaMasters was named the varsity team's Most Valuable Player, while Mostek won the varsity team's Spirit Award.
In addition, LaMasters earned Hawkeye 10 Player of the Year honors from KMA, while McCabe was named the Coach of the Year by KMA for the Hawkeye 10 Conference and the entire KMA coverage area.
(Number of letters won)
Juniors — Brenna Baker (4), Haylee LaMasters (4), Natalie Mostek (4).
Sophomores — Taylor Briley (3), Alyssa Higgins (2), Shelby Palser (2), Jami Sickels (2), Josie Sickels (3), Alli Thomsen (1).
Freshmen — Lexie Little (1), Hannah Hood (manager, 1).
8th-grade — Chloe Hagle (1).
Participation Awards — Hannah Fogle, Morghan Frey, Aleisha Larkin, Cammy Rutherford, Morgan Shawler, Mattie Wheeler.
Hawkeye 10 All-Conference
First team — Haylee LaMasters, Natalie Mostek, Josie Sickels.
Second team — Taylor Briley, Jami Sickels.
Honorable mention — Alyssa Higgins, Lexie Little.
Most Improved Player — Jami Sickels (varsity), Aleisha Larkin (JV).
Spirit Award — Natalie Mostek (varsity), Mattie Wheeler (JV).
MVP — Haylee LaMasters (varsity), Chloe Hagle (JV).
Coaches' Award — Hannah Hood.