Germantown softball program a success behind coaches Raguse, Barbiaux
Berry also earns All-Sub spot
How well have NOW All-Suburban Softball co-Coaches of the Year Kurt Raguse and Amy Barbiaux of Germantown done in establishing the concept of leadership among their players?
Take this thought that Raguse has on his NOW All-Suburban shortstop and lead-off hitter Erika Berry.
"I would be walking out onto the infield before the start of a (defensive) inning with some last-minute instructions and then I would see her (Berry) talking to the kids," he said. "At that point, I would just turn and walk back to the dugout because I knew she was saying what needed to be said.
"I can't tell you what that means for a kid to take ownership in her team like that, just telling everyone, 'We are good enough! We can do this!' That is just huge."
And the 21-9 Warhawks needed some emotional buttressing at times this season.
Not only had they graduated all-world hitters and pitchers Felicia Kons (also a 2013 NOW All-Suburban selection) and Amanda Witzlib from their North Shore champion and WIAA state tourney qualifying team from a year ago, but before they could hit mid-season, top returning pitcher Kim Soderberg broke a knuckle on her throwing hand making a fielding play.
Junior Jordan Wood took a deep breath and took over effectively on the mound, but the Warhawks still went through a difficult mid-season 3-5 run as they had two freshmen and three sophomores figuring out new roles.
But then they poured on the gas at the end, winning 13 of their last 15 games, and then claiming their fourth consecutive North Shore Conference title before earning a third WIAA state tournament berth in a row.
And just for grins, at state they beat border rival Menomonee Falls, 5-2, in a quarterfinal game to avenge a first game of the season loss to the Indians.
"Every season in any sport any team can go through rough patches," said Berry, "but you can still work towards the bigger goals. We just had a good vibe with this team and I really think that helped us bounce back for the big games at the end.
"I think once we got into the playoffs, we, as a team, always had a mentality of focusing on every pitch, every play."
"We had a grit about us," she said. "The kids would dig down and work hard. Every year you lose a core group of seniors and you have to adjust. And things like what happened to Kim (Soderberg) are unfortunate but they happen, but the kids picked each other up."
This is the second time in three years that Raguse and Barbiaux have been named NOW Co-Coaches of the Year to go along with the award they won in 2012. The pair met at some clinics a few years ago and found that their coaching philosophies meshed very closely.
"We hadn't worked extensively together before but I got to see her coach and I could see that she really knew what she was doing," said Raguse. "She really knew the game. After that, I was more than willing to work with her. We talked a bit and we both figured it would be a good fit."
Raguse works heavily with the pitchers and Barbiaux does a lot of work with the infielders. They split up duties with the outfielders.
"We both have a strong belief of teaching the fundamentals at every level," said Barbiaux. "I think that's a big part of what makes us so successful. We have our different strengths and we work well together. I trust him to lead us in what he's strong in and he trusts me to do the same. It's a good partnership."
And it has been recognized by respected opponents such as Menomonee Falls coach Lou Sanicola, he of a 25-5 record and Greater Metro Conference title, who gave an unsolicited and hearty nomination for Raguse and Barbiaux.
"They played their best ball at the end of the season," said Sanicola.
It also helped that their best player, Berry, was playing her best ball at the end of the season too. The diminutive (5-foot-5), strong-willed leader, also carried a big bat along with a big sense of responsibility. She hit .449 for the year and led the team in at bats (89), runs (33), hits (40), doubles (10) and slugging percentage (.685).
From her lead-off spot, she hit a home run in each of the Warhawks' first three WIAA playoff games, including the only run in the 1-0 sectional final victory over Brookfield Central and she also hit a double in her first at bat against Falls in the state quarterfinal game.
That hit came against the Indians' two-time All-Suburban selection Kelly Berglund, who came into the game with a 0.85 ERA.
Berry, one of the point guards for the Warhawks' North Shore Conference championship basketball team this past winter, ("That was just a blast," she said), has been the model of versatility in her four years on the varsity team, working as a second baseman her sophomore year and the third baseman last year before taking over at shortstop this season.
"I've always played a lot of positions," she said. "If the coach wanted me to play first, second, or third, I knew I could do it."
She's also a stickler for self-improvement, having worked a great deal on her short, compact, very quick swing last season with her summer league team, the BATS Sports Academy. The results, as noted, were dramatic.
"The swing was the best I've ever had," she said, "and I had the best stats I ever had this year, too."
"She is just so composed out there," said Barbiaux. "She displays her leadership every time she steps up to the plate. The others see what she does and they think they can do it, too."
Berry will go to school and play for UW-Oshkosh in the fall.
Meanwhile, Raguse and Barbiaux are working with their summer teams, thinking about next season already. Aside from Berry, they will also have to replace all-conference designated player Rose Dobrogowski, as well as Soderberg (who came back to have a strong playoff run) and her sister Becky, Ashley Eineichner, Korey Rossman, Caitlin Conway, and Rylie Eichstaedt.
But up to seven starters return and the program will move on just like it always has.
"This is not just about the team," said Barbiaux, "but also about the school and the community. Germantown is a great community and we get great backing from everyone, teachers, parents, past coaches. This is has been a successful program for many years for many reasons (and not just us)."
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