High School Sports

Carroll’s softball success a ‘perfect storm for 30-some years’

Carroll’s Brittany Finney (7), Meghan Gutierrez (1) and Leslie Hoffman (2) hoist the Class 5A championship trophy last May.
Carroll’s Brittany Finney (7), Meghan Gutierrez (1) and Leslie Hoffman (2) hoist the Class 5A championship trophy last May. The Wichita Eagle

From the first day of each softball season, Bishop Carroll senior right fielder Briana Hogan has heard that while it’s OK to lose a regular-season game, the Eagles expect to win in the postseason.

“It opens your eyes a little bit,” Hogan said. “It makes you realize, ‘Oh, they don’t lose. You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to play hard. You’ve got to fight for things that Carroll has, to keep the traditions.’ 

Carroll enters the Class 5A tournament on Thursday and Friday at Two Rivers Youth Club with its sights on winning a state-record sixth straight championship. The Eagles have been dominant with seven players hitting better than .500 and outscoring opponents 360-20.

Carroll, ranked fourth nationally by USA Today and 11th by MaxPreps, has won 77 straight games, 15 short of Chase County’s record 92 set from 2012-15.

Such success isn’t new. Carroll’s winning spans decades.

“We just expected to win,” said Teri Larson, who won titles as a Carroll player in 1979 and 1980, and coached against Carroll while at Maize and Maize South. “It’s not a pressure. Just an expectation.”

13 state titles

30 City League titles, tied and outright

42top three finishes in City League

39 top two finishes in City League

Carroll has won a record 13 titles — three with perfect records — and has at least one championship in each of the past five decades.

Those titles have a place on the wall in Carroll’s gym, but no one is quite sure how many second-place finishes Carroll has because no one thought to keep that stat.

For many teams, winning a state title requires an exceptional situation with experience and talent.

“When you talk about a perfect storm,” Larson said, “they’ve had a perfect storm for 30-some years.”

CARROLL THROUGH THE DECADES 1970s

49-14 in the City League

With the 1972 passage of Title IX, which requires gender equity in public education educational programs including sports, the City League started six girls sports — basketball, gymnastics, softball, tennis, track and volleyball.

Carroll and West tied for the first City League title with 6-1 records in the spring of 1973.

“We had the best players,” said Larson of her time at Carroll. “Not to be rude, but all of us played in the summer, even back then. We were the first to travel.”

Five of Larson’s six sisters played softball for the Eagles.

“Girls sometimes don’t understand the difference between confidence and cockiness,” Larson said. “You grow up confident at Carroll.… In that atmosphere, you’re blessed with the camaraderie, the expectation.

“It’s like when you get married and you just know each other. As teammates, we were on the same page. It’s hard to screw up that chemistry.”

The 1970s was by far Carroll’s least-successful worst decade in softball with the Eagles’ only two losing records. The Eagles were 16-12 in the City League from 1974-77 before rattling off 12 straight league titles.

1980s

147-10 in the City League

538-69 Carroll’s City League record

88.6Carroll’s City League winning percentage

In the 1980s, Carroll was 132-10 in the City League and won state titles in 1980 and 1987.

Don Racine, the coach from 1991-97, was an assistant from 1981-90. Asked how Carroll could sustain that success, Racine said, “It’s the girls.”

“They played all those years before and they became better when they came to Carroll,” he said. “… To win consistently year in and year out, to develop the players they’ve developed — we get good kids. Good kids, good parents and people backing from the school.”

1990s

134-26 in the City League

In Racine’s first season as coach, the Eagles won the 5A title and then won again two years later in 1993. Christy Weve, now the Derby coach, won in 1999, her second season as coach.

Carroll won six league titles in the 1990s, finishing in the top two nine times. The last time Carroll lost more than three league games was in 1990, when the Eagles were 11-5 and took fourth.

“You can sit there and say the girls work hard, but in every program the girls work hard,” said Weve, who was Carroll’s coach from 1998-2003 and was 25-0 in 2001.

“Tradition’s the first thing that comes to mind. I guess if you pull out the layers, there’s tradition and good support from the Carroll community.”

Carroll has had 138 players named to the All-City League team since it was first picked in 1977. A Carroll coach has been named coach of the year six times.

2000s

144-16 in the City League

The Eagles won the City League title six times in this decade and won state titles in 2001 and 2004. Jennifer Unrein won her first title in 2004, her first season.

“For Carroll to be that successful for 30-some years, through all these coaches, it’s a mixture of a lot of things,” Larson said. “I don’t think you can put your finger on it. I tried to mimic it as a coach, tried to instill it.”

2010s

109-3 in the City League

Carroll’s run of five straight 5A titles is an impressive feat. The past six seasons have been stellar.

Carroll owns or is tied for 25 state records compiled by the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. Sixteen of those — single-season, single-game or individual records – were set in the past seven seasons.

“The players want to work,” said Angie Dal Pozzo, who coached from 2011-13 and won three straight titles with a 69-6 record. “Sure, they all need a push, but I’d tell them all the time — ‘If you expect a lot, you get a lot.’ 

Carroll pitcher Jessi Haffner, now playing at Oklahoma State, won four titles.

“My mom told me after freshman year that it’s uncommon for kids to win state championships, let alone two,” Haffner said. “She told me, ‘Don’t get cocky.’ But I thought it would be easy.

“It’s a lot harder. It was a lot tougher than it looked.”

Steve Harshberger, a longtime softball coach in high school and college, is in his third season at Carroll.

His goal coming in was to up the intensity, but not mess with the little details.

He instituted the expectation of hitting line drives with no grounders or popups. Keep hitting line drives in batting practice and the pitches keep coming.

“The point was we’re not trying to hit home runs. We’re trying to drive the ball,” Harshberger said.

Briana Hogan, who has signed with Louisiana-Monroe, understood the expectations after watching her sister, Hunter, play.

But the Eagles don’t talk about the streak, which she discovered existed this week.

“It puts a little pressure on us, but as a team, I think we’re pretty confident and can handle the pressure,” said Hogan, a 2015 All-Metro selection.

The Eagles aren’t assured of a sixth straight championship. But they are the favorite. Again.

Joanna Chadwick: 316-268-6270, @joannachadwick

Carroll’s state softball records

Compiled by the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame

  • Tied for five straight titles
  • 19 title-game appearances
  • Tied with three unbeaten seasons
  • 31 state appearances
  • 57 state tourney wins
  • 405 runs in a season (2014)
  • 334 RBIs in a season (2014)
  • 379 hits in a season (2014)
  • 59 homers in a season (2014)
  • 83 doubles in a season (2014)
  • .562 batting average in a season (2015)
  • 36 runs in a game (2016)
  • 28 hits in a game (2016)
  • 16 hits in an inning (2016)
  • Six homers in a game (2015)
  • Tied with five hits in a game (Brittany Finney 2015, Madison Miller 2016)
  • 171 RBIs in a career (Lauren Buchanan, 2012-15)
  • 38 home runs in a career (Finney 2012-15, also played for Wamego and Maize)
  • Tied with three homers in a game (Miller 2014, Finney 2015, Briana Hogan 2015)
  • Tied with three triples in a game (Kristen Cheney 1996)
  • Four doubles in a game (Kaylin Watkins 2016)
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