Ella Cook '21, Carey Koenig '21, and Ayana Lindsey '21 pose for a shot in front of their beloved field's scoreboard after a spring scrimmage against Liberty High School.

Addy Smith

The Triple Threat

Freshmen Ella Cook, Carey Koenig, and Ayana Lindsey have become the leading forces behind the City High Softball revival campaign.

May 12, 2018

It would be a mistake to stereotype these three as ordinary freshman girls. Instead of ordinary trivialities, the trio of Carey Koenig, Ayana Lindsey, and Ella Cook have the future of an entire softball program at the forefront their mind.

This past summer, the threesome led the City High Softball team to its most successful season in over a decade.

“It was odd that there were three eighth-graders that were playing such a big role on a varsity team,” Carey Koenig said.

Even with their grand ambitions, they are still fourteen years old. They eat Smuckers Uncrustable sandwiches for lunch, pausing between bites to clear their braces-embellished teeth of the “extra gooey” peanut butter filling, but also don T-shirts and athletic shorts so they can head straight to the lifting room after school. All before their first day in high school, the eighth-graders led the Little Hawks to their first winning season in over a decade, sweeping rival West High for the first time since the trio has been alive along the way.

All three athletes have dabbled in most other conventional sports, but softball has always been different to them.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know why. It’s just so much fun to play,” Koenig said, cracking a wide smile in admiration. “It’s just like fun, I don’t know. I’ve never really had that connection with any other sport, so softball was just the one.”

All three girls began playing T-ball as kindergartners and would later combine forces as third-graders on a rec-league team under the direction of Jeff Koenig. Now, six years later, only the name of their team has changed. Ella Cook remembers the time she first realized her goal of making the City High Softball team a winning program.

“Our club team when we were in elementary school would scrimmage the sophomore and JV City High teams and we’d beat them handily,” she said. “It was weird to see that they were playing at such a slow level when we were used to playing at such a high level. We wanted to just bring the program back up.”

The trio attended high-school skill practices as grade-schoolers. By the time seventh grade rolled around and Jeff Koenig became the head varsity coach, they were traveling with the team, sitting in the dugout, riding the bus, and practicing with a team they had by then grown to which they had become “familiar.”

“We bought into the program young and we’re the group that’s starting to rebuild and make it so that once we leave, the legacy of our team will continue with the younger generation,” Koenig said. “We’re just here to rebuild this program and get it back up to where it should be.”

After years of preparation for their varsity debut, Lindsey, Koenig, and Cook came in with their sights on one thing and one thing only: winning.

“We brought in that competitiveness that they needed,” Cook said. “We weren’t there to just have fun, that this could be a joke. We were there to compete, win games, and take care of business.”

Although the eighth-graders had been submerged in the City High softball program since they were children, they had never actually played an official inning in a high school softball game. They said they had to remind themselves that the game was no different than what they were used to playing, that they didn’t need to change a thing. Soon, they could compete with players four years their senior.

“It was one of our first games we were playing #1-ranked Pleasant Valley, who happened to be the state champion the previous year,” Cook said. “I got up to bat, my first at bat, and I hit a home run. It was just like, ‘I just hit a home run off the #1-ranked pitcher,’ which gave me so much confidence for the rest of the season.”

The 2017 warm-up T-shirts consisted of a plain white T-shirt with the simple phrase “Elevate and Celebrate” across the front. Coach Koenig adopted the motto from one of the most successful softball programs in the sport’s history: that of the University of Alabama. “Elevating” the ball means hitting home runs and then “celebrating” accordingly. With the help of the newly-cherished motto, the team broke the school record of 26 home runs and 70 doubles.

Although things weren’t smooth-sailing from the get-go (the first double-header of the season, City was run-ruled by Davenport North), the team went on to win six of the next eight games, and fans would soon start to pay close attention. When City played North in the regional quarterfinal, the score was 16-4 in favor of the Little Hawks.

“This year, things really started to come together and we had faith in each other and we started to believe in each other and people started to see that we can be successful,” Koenig said. “The whole mentality of City High softball started to change.”

This [past] year, the whole mentality of City High softball started to change. ”

— Carey Koenig

When asked why Koenig thinks that last season was the year for City High Softball’s story to change, she said, “I think we just had to set the pace for the team.”

The threesome soon anticipates other players with a shared level of dedication will soon join them in the remainder of their City High careers.

“There’s other people that are right up with our intensity coming up in the ranks and the people that are already above us are able to play, too,” Koenig said. “I think that if we keep playing as a team, there’s nobody that can really stop us.”

As for this upcoming season, the girls are nowhere near satisfied. Each of them will spit out just exactly what they are vying to get done, no questions asked. For Ayana Lindsey, 150 strikeouts to top her previous 97. Carey Koenig wants to be above .500 as a team and to be able to throw runners out again after arm surgery. Ella Cook pulls out her phone, heads to notes, and says, “How much time do you have?” That list includes a conference championship, number-two seed in the playoffs, hitting higher than .500 as a team, never getting swept, and a trip to Fort Dodge for the state tournament—in that order.

“We want to put the records up there that aren’t going to be broken over and over again,” Cook said. “We want to be remembered.”

Freshman Ella Cook takes a crack at a ball thrown by Liberty High's pitcher during their teams' scrimmage at the City High diamond.

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