Coach Jeff Hulse’s Olathe East High School softball program has reveled in winning a Kansas Class 6A state championship eight times now, but it never gets old.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
The Hawks wrapped up a repeat May 24 with a 5-3 win against Washburn Rural at Blue Valley West.
“Every one of the eight titles we’ve won as a program has been unique and special,” Hulse said. “Of course, the championship we won at the moment is the most important and most rewarding, because it’s a new experience for a lot of the kids and fun to see some of them win it again.”
Olathe East — which also won state championships in 1998, 2001, 2004-07 and 2012 — finished the season 24-1, but this wasn’t the typical seasoned bunch that lays waste to the Sunflower League and every other challenger.
Yes, the Hawks won the program’s 14th league championship since 1998, but Hulse’s squad did so with only four returning starters.
“Last year, we were very senior-laden,” Hulse said. “We had six seniors who graduated, so we had a lot of holes to fill with some young kids, but they stepped up and did a wonderful job.”
Of course it didn’t hurt to have senior pitcher/first baseman Jenni Brooks and junior pictcher/first baseman Allison Stewart to build around, along with senior shortstop Greer Hartman and junior second baseman Liz Leonard.
“Having Allison and Jenni back in the circle was probably the key for us, because those are probably the two best pitchers in the state,” Hulse said. “Having their presence lifted everybody else around us, so they were critical for us.”
Both Brooks and Stewart undoubtedly benefitted from having such a strong middle-infield combination in Hartman and Leonard, who set a Hawks record for most double plays turned.
Still, without so many contributions from the younger teammates, there’s no way Olathe East could have added to its dynasty.
Whether it was junior catcher Sayde Woten’s growth as a game-caller or junior third baseman Bailey Ward’s steady play, the Hawks returned to the summit thanks to some surprising and welcome contributions.
Olathe East also had an entirely new outfield — junior center field McKenna Davis flanked by corner outfielders Taylor Officer and Kennedy Poro — but it didn’t end there.
Freshmen Taylor Vickers, a backup catcher and outfielder, and Kaylee Byers, a utility player, even chipped in as base runners.
“We had a lot of young kids who had their breakout year for us, who had been in the wings waiting for their opportunity,” Hulse said. “They seized the moment and stepped up as a team when that chance came.”
In the end, the result was more of the same for Olathe East.
Hawks baseball announces camp
Olathe East’s baseball team will conduct a camp for players in sixth through ninth grades on June 3-6.
For more information, visit www.eteamz.com/OlatheEastBaseball/.
South boys hoops’ camps
Olathe South’s boys basketball program will conduct a series of camps, including three in early June.
The Falcons youth camp (second through fifth grades) is set for 9 to 10:30 a.m. June 3-6, while the high school camp (9 a.m. to noon) and middle school camp (2 to 4 p.m.) are slated for June 10-13.
There also will be two Future Falcon camps July 15-18 — one for players entering second through fifth grades from 8 to 10 a.m. and another for players entering sixth through eighth grades from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The cost is $55 per camper.
Registration forms are available online at olathesouth.net or by contacting Falcons coach Jim Carr at 913-780-7874.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.