The Derby softball team huddled together with a tight hug, squished faces and smiles in the Panthers’ foyer.
The high schoolers celebrated three commitments on Wednesday’s National Signing Day, as Tatum Haney signed with Friends, Courtney Cline with Hutchinson Community College and Madi Young with Butler County. More important was the rest of the group, ringing out as each name was called to sign. And even more important was its rush to the signing table as the party started.
Wednesday marked only 60% of the Derby softball signings from the 2019 class. Brianna Reeves signed with Bethel College, and Katelyn Yell went with Tabor College earlier this year. Together, the five college softball-bound seniors are looking to help make Derby history.
The Panthers have reached the Class 6A state tournament eight straight years. The run has been almost unprecedented in Kansas high school softball.
Derby has entered as low as the No. 8 seed at 12-10 in 2014 and as high as the second seed last season at 20-2. The Panthers have been the undisputed top team in Class 6A in the Wichita area. They have had an All-Metro selection every year but one. Last year was Young, a well-rounded short stop following in her sister’s footsteps. Kenzie Young earned All-Metro honors three straight years.
But during that stretch of eight straight state quarterfinal appearances, Derby has made it to the second day of the tournament only once, in 2013. The Panthers beat Lawrence Free State 3-2 in eight innings that day.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve always been a young team,” Young said. “We get nervous, so going into this year, that’s what we’ve been preaching more and more about is just staying calm and knowing that us seniors have their back.
“The first time we met this year, I said, ‘We’re going to be serious this year. We’re going have your back, but this is real.’ “
With a wealth of senior leadership and the constant reminder of failure, the 2019 Panthers are ignited to leave a legacy beyond the final eight.
“They want to keep the tradition going and get back to state,” coach Christine Weve said. “But they definitely want to be the team that gets over that hump. We’ve come close, really close, but we have just had to learn to finish it off.”
The Wichita area hasn’t won a Class 6A softball state championship since Maize did it in 2010, and the Eagles now play in 5A. Before that, it was Wichita Northwest in 1999. The Grizzlies also now compete in 5A.
No Wichita area team that currently fights for the 6A title has ever won one, but this Derby team might be equipped to become the first.
The Panthers are off to a 10-2 start, with no losses to 6A teams. They are fifth in 6A West.
“At the beginning of this year, I was nervous for our hitting, but that is our biggest power top to bottom,” Young said. “I’m way confident in this team to break that streak and get past the first round.”