The end of an era for Champion softball

Time passes on and things never stay the same, a fact that became painfully aware to the Champion Golden Flashes softball team Saturday afternoon.

As the Flashes’ season came to an end with a 4-3 loss to the LaBrae Vikings in Jefferson, sitting in the stands near the first-base line was Lindsay Swipas. Her presence was a reminder of the 2011 and 2012 Division III state championships the Flashes won behind her strong pitching during four seasons as a varsity starter.

There was no way that Flashes coach Cheryl Weaver could have slipped a Groucho Marx glasses-and-nose disguise on Swipas and covertly entered her into the game. Swipas just completed her freshman year at Ohio State University, leaving her softball glove in some trophy case or maybe a closet for memory’s sake.

It came as no big surprise that the Flashes didn’t win a district title for the first time since the 2009 season. The graduation losses of Swipas, Haley McAllister and Alison Sorber last year put a dent into the machine, and the damage grew larger when returning senior Darian Rogers missed the entire season with a knee injury.

As difficult as it was in dealing with those losses, what Weaver faces next year might be even more challenging. When the seniors were asked to step forward to accept the runner-up trophy Saturday, all that was left behind were sophomores Brittany Allen, Haylee Gardiner and the injured Courtney Parker, junior Page Davenport and freshmen Carissa Hurst and Amber Ricci.

“We only had two freshmen come out this season,” Weaver said. “Never in all the years have I had just two freshmen come out. I keep hearing that in the next three years there are a bunch of softball players.”

The lack of depth behind the seven seniors left the defending state champ without a junior varsity team. Unless there’s an unexpected large turnout next spring, Weaver might not be able to field a jayvee team for a second straight season.

“Next year will really be the rebuilding year,” Weaver said.

The Flashes didn’t have Swipas’ pitching skills this season, but they had plenty of players that experienced both state titles. Seniors returning for a fourth straight try at a district championship were Sierra Blackson, Brooke Culler, Kayla Hunt, Leanne Brown, Kenzie Goranitis and Mackenzie Kiser. Rogers would have increased the total to seven, which is a strong enough nucleus to do some damage.

It wasn’t enough, as Weaver surely knew before the season began, to entertain thoughts of a state threepeat. The goals had to be more modest this time around.

Championship teams have had more dramatic drops from grace than the 2013 Flashes. The players will eventually look back at this season and remember it as a success because of another appearance in the district final.

Those that competed on the last two state championship teams can always take pride in those accomplishments. Todd Rowe, LaBrae’s athletic director, paid the Flashes the ultimate compliment before he presented the Vikings with their medals, saying, “To be the best we had to beat the best.”

Those words had to make the defeat a little easier to take for the Flashes.

“This has been a year that I’m not used to,” Weaver said. “We had so many injuries, so it’s been a difficult year. We kept the tough schedule, so the record (15-11-2) wasn’t that good, but the girls kept fighting. Today LaBrae was the better team.”

It’s the yesterdays that the Flashes can remember with fondness.