It might seem as if Andale-Garden Plain has been a softball power forever.
The program earned its fourth straight postseason berth and as the No. 2 seed in Class 5A will play Mill Valley at 5 p.m. Friday at Topeka's Hummer Sports Complex.
Andale-Garden Plain (21-1) finished second in 2009 in 5A after moving up from 4A. Andale-Garden Plain won the Class 4A title in 2008 and took third in 2001.
It's a rich history — but it dates back to 2000, when the program began.
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"We've had some good athletes, there's no doubt about that," said Doris Hein, Andale-Garden Plain's coach since 2000. "We've been blessed with strong athletes. The interest was there when the program started and it is just continuing to interest kids."
The first season was rough; Andale-Garden Plain won six games.
"We took our lumps," Hein said.
In Year 2, though, the team had a third-place trophy.
"I would say it's been a steady progression," said Hein, who has coached all her daughters, including Molly, a current pitcher. "The skill level keeps getting better."
There's also more players participating in offseason conditioning and on summer teams.
"When the program first started off, I would say the kids were recreational at most," Hein said."... It's gotten more intense as the years have gone on."
The expectations have become more focused, as well. While the early years included setting goals as a team, that no longer happens.
They know the ultimate goal is contending for a state title.
Andale-Garden Plain has plenty of talent on the current team, including three four-year starters in Erin Carney, who moved from first base to fill a hole at catcher, shortstop Kelsey Fisher and third baseman Gail Martin. Junior center fielder Sydney Stuever was a 2009 All-Metro selection.
"We have a lot of experience," said Carney, whose team returned five starters."... We've been here four times, so we should know what to expect. We've been through anything and everything. I would say that whatever is thrown at us, we should be prepared."
Stuever, who is hitting over .500, is a pure athlete who covers much ground in the outfield and has the speed to beat out bunts. Carney, Fisher, Sydnee Eck and Kelsey Harlow are hitting over .400.
Eck, a sophomore pitcher, has 10 shutouts and averages nine strikeouts a game.
Carney and Stuever credit Hein with the program's continued success, citing her organization and calm attitude.
"We all look up to her," Stuever said. "She's not the type to embarrass you, so you don't want to let her down.... She's so calm about things, you have to respect that."
Hein focuses on team, teaching her players to eschew individual goals. And she plays an active role in team-bonding. She plans to host the team for breakfast Friday morning before the trip to Topeka. Carney knows she can count on waffles and cinnamon rolls for sure.
"It's a good team-bonding thing," Carney said. "We want to do one last team-bonding get together before we head up to state and play our games. That's important for our team to have good chemistry on and off the field."