The lost spring has been tough on all high school athletic teams. Title aspirations and dreams were crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Poynette prep softball team was especially hit hard. The cancelled spring cost the Pumas a shot at history. The two-time defending state champions had the makings of the one of the best teams in the storied history of the program.
“We were ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll,” long-time Puma coach Bob Tomlinson said. “After winning it all in 2018, we made huge strides during that summer. We were far better in 2019 than we were in 2018. We would have been even better this year. We would have been right in the hunt for a third straight title. We would have had great pitching with five good chuckers on board. We were a potent offensive unit and we rarely beat ourselves when at bat or on the field.”
The Lady Pumas were set to welcome back almost their entire team from last year. They lost just one senior off last year’s squad that was a perfect 30-0.
Poynette ran its win streak to 54 games on its way to a second straight state crown last season. The Pumas earned the program’s fifth title after blanking Campbellsport 4-0 in the state championship game.
The Lady Pumas also claimed their second straight Capitol North Conference title last season. They claimed the crown with a 10-0 mark, followed by Lake Mills (7-3), Lakeside Lutheran (6-4), Columbus (4-6), Watertown Luther Prep (2-8) and Lodi (1-9).
The expectation level for this year’s team was so high due to the talented senior class, which included Irene Navassa, Morgan Jones, Brianna Kowald, Casey Fountain, Lucy Cuff, Molly Anderson, Mara Millard, Lizzie Schwenn, Mollie Blochwitz, Brianna Schulz, Shelby Reeder, Hannah Berner and Kaitlyn Berner.
Fountain had a remarkable junior season for the Pumas. After being named the Capitol North Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year, she was honored as the Division 3 Player of the Year.
“She probably would have moved into the leadoff spot in the order,” Tomlinson said. “She is a great hitter and another solid pitcher in long list of such Poynette chuckers. She was ready to lead. She is a great kid and a respected teammate. Like all of these kids, she is an example of what any young kid would want to be like. She is humble yet had a blue flame when competition caused it to ignite.”
Cuff was a first-team Capitol North Conference and all-state pick.
“Batting third in front of three dynamic hitters would have given her a chance for another amazing season,” Tomlinson said. “She really would have been in the catbird seat batting third. She probably was going to play third base and some outfield. She was a prime reason why we were better in ‘19 than we were in ‘18. Her stats and tremendous post-season success proves that. She is a tremendous student, No. 1 in the class of 2020.”
Anderson came away with first-team all-conference and second-team all-state last season.
“Molly is a great hitter, especially in tense, clutch situations,” Tomlinson said. “She really worked hard last summer on some things. She is a bona fide clean-up hitter and a great leader in and out of uniform.”
Schwenn was also a first-team all-Capitol North performer last year.
“She is another diligent worker and performer,” Tomlinson said. “She has played a lot of ball near and far. I was expecting a power surge from her this year. She is a great teammate willing to play wherever she makes us better.”
Kowald earned second-team all-conference honors as a junior.
“She is another in a long line of Poynette second sackers,” Tomlinson said. “Probably would have moved to the two slot in the order after batting leadoff the past two years. She covers acreage at that position. She is a competitor.”
Since the season was cancelled, Tomlinson has not had much communication with his team.
“I really do not ever communicate with our softball players via phone, text or social media,” Tomlinson said. “I wrote some great profiles on the seniors and just last night posted a shield I put together to give them a tribute at the field. It will be there as long as the field is. They know they were daily on my mind.”
With such a large senior class this year, the Pumas will have a much different look next season. Tomlinson knows it will be tough on the underclassman to lose an entire season.
“We have to remember to not forget about the younger kids,” Tomlinson said. “They too will only get three seasons in high school, hopefully. What they missed out on from no involvement this year is a lot. They missed out on a year of progression and a year of learning. A year of learning the good stuff that many programs do not do. A year of understanding and learning that better E equals better P. That means better efficiency equals better proficiency. That is what separates okay from good and good from great. We will have a lot of teaching and learning to do come March of 2021. After all, we will still be defending state champions. Only COVID-19 could beat us in 2020.”
When the 2021 season starts, it will be business as usual for Tomlinson and the Pumas.
“I never really get too excited about another season starting. I just make sure there is a plan in place to seek better,” Tomlinson said. “Hope is never a plan. Hope and faith are two separate things. You have to plan and have faith that leaders will emerge, and eager leaners will be on the field for practice.”