On a Saturday afternoon last May, Warren’s softball team beat Zion-Benton to win the Class 4A sectional championship and earn a berth in the Round of 8 of the IHSA tournament series.
Warren’s head coach that day was Tina Meyer.
If the exact same matchup occurs again this May in the sectional final — and the odds of that happening are very good given the tremendous strength of the two teams — Meyer again will be coaching a team.
Only this time, Meyer will be in the Zion-Benton dugout.
The sequence of events is this: Meyer is a teacher at Zion-Benton High and was an assistant coach at Warren. When Warren’s coach resigned before the 2013 season, Meyer was promoted to head coach and directed a loaded Blue Devils squad to regional and sectional titles — the latter title coming by virtue of 6-2 victory over Zion-Benton.
At the time, Z-B was led by longtime coach Rick Rymer, who then was not asked to return for reasons that obviously had nothing to do with the Bees’ won-loss record.
Needing a coach and having Meyer already working at the school, Zion-Benton athletic director’s decision pretty much was a no-brainer, which is where things now stand with the season about to kick into high gear.
“She took a team to the supersectional last year at Warren,” said Bible. “She has great knowledge, and great passion for the game, and she’s had success before. We had some other very good candidates, but she’s a proven winner who was able to step into it very quickly. With the high level we’ve played at, we want to continue at that high level.”
And they will, although not with all the same players who were part of last year’s North Suburban Conference Lake Division and regional championship team.
The first two hitters in Zion’s lineup last year were freshman sensations Jessica Lauret and Stephanie Munda. Lauret’s dad was an assistant coach working with Rymer for the last several years at Z-B, and Jessica’s now attending Libertyville High. Mundelein suffered an injury last fall and won’t be able to play this spring.
Still, there are a lot of pieces in place, including two really good pitchers in juniors Kyra Lenzi and Claire Crane.
Last year at Warren, Meyer went with “co-aces” so she’s not married to having one pitcher do all the heavy lifting.
“We both have a lot to offer,” said Lenzi. “Wherever I’m lacking, she’s able to pick up, and it’s the same the other way. We’ve been playing together for awhile, and it’s worked out well.
“It’s nice to know that if one of us is having a rough game the other is there to get your back. That happened quite a bit last year. I think that’s going to help us out again this year.”
Actually, pitching is a huge strength for the Bees, both in quality and quantity.
“We could have as many as four pitchers up on varsity,” said Meyer. “All of them are universal players who can play the outfield, play third base, or play first. It will depend on who our opponent is, and who I feel will give us the biggest benefit that game.”
Pitching, obviously, is the starting point for every good softball team. The next key spot is shortstop, and there, the Zee-Bees have four-year varsity player Cindy Garces. She’s excited about the start of a new season, some new teammates, and a new way of doing things under the new coaching staff.
“We’re all really happy to get a new start. New coach. New Year. We’ve really been looking forward to the season,” Garces said. “We definitely want to go farther in the playoffs than we did this year. We’ve bonded really well already We have the pitching, the hitting … everything we need.”
And the coach said the excitement for this year has translated over to preseason workouts.
“This year, the girls did a lot of offseason conditioning,” Meyer said. “They worked really hard. Going into this year, a lot of them were really positive.
Now, it’s about putting the puzzle pieces together, me getting used to them and getting a feel for their potential, and them getting used to a new coach.
“So, we’ve done a lot of team building, including taking them to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for spring break. That’s a great opportunity to build relationships, bond as a team, and figure out where we need people.”
With the season starting in earnest this week, it won’t take long for opposition team to figure out that Zion-Benton doesn’t need very much to be great.
“We have a good program, and a solid group of sophomores — at least 10-plus,” the coach said. “We also have a good group at the junior level. We definitely have the potential to do some things the next few years.”