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It is an accomplishment for a sports team to win a league championship. To repeat is another great accomplishment. A three-peat is seldom achieved. But when a sports team strings together 10 straight league titles, they have a dynasty on their hands. Such is the case with the Archbold Softball Machine.
In the program's 28 years of existence, the Blue Streaks boast a record of 202 wins and only 23 losses, a winning percentage of 90%. Through it's rich history Archbold has won or shared 22 NWOAL championships. Since 2010 the team has a league record of 47-1.
With every exceptional program it is great leadership keeps the machine running smoothly. Archbold has been blessed with coaches that have a true passion for the sport of softball. The current coach who has been at the helm since 2002 is Joe Frank.
"I had always coached summer baseball, Frank began. "Doug Krauss (Archbold athletic Director) asked me if I might be interested in giving softball a try. I got the job and here I am 14 years later. Each year has a new set of players who have the same eagerness to succeed. I love to coach and the challenge of making each team the best that it can be and also teaching life lessons that last long after their softball careers end."
The excellence of any program has to have some enduring qualities and according to the coach there are three constants that he sees. " One is good athletes with the desire to excel," Frank explained. "Another constant is great assistant coaches. Greg Kuhlman has been with me all 14 years while Andrea Thiel, Dan Rychener, and Sarah Betts have coached a good share of those seasons. The third constant has been our 14U summer team. Greg Kuhlman has done that for probably 20 years and I have helped him the past several. The girls all know our expectations and how we do things before they ever enter high school."
Coach Frank was quick to talk about the solid program that he inherited. "I feel the key to the program’s success was the foundation laid by our initial coach, Barb Short. Coach Short was ahead of her time and we got off to a great start, in the softball program, because of her dedication to teaching the fundamentals to our players. There are a lot of reasons for the success of the softball program here at Archbold but in my mind, she was the key. A lot of the success that we have had in softball is also due to success of these same athletes in other sports. I really believe there is a carry-over from the success of other sports as well. We have had a lot of 3 sport athletes in years past and we will have to try and avoid the pitfall of “specializing” in one sport and not playing multiple sports. "
Much of the excellence in high school softball is aided by the pitcher's mound. Archbold has produced such names as Susan Pape, Angie Gomez, Lauren Kern, Peyton Robinson just to name a few. "Greg Kuhlman has handled the pitchers from day one and deserves a lot of the credit but he would also be the first to admit that he has coached some talented young ladies," Frank said. "One trait I think most have shared is being very competitive. A successful pitcher has to possess an edge, mentally, to be the leader the position calls them to be. Another key attribute is staying calm in some rather tense moments on the field. The last one that comes to mind, right now, is confidence. They all had the belief that, with the help of their teammates, they could get it done."
The Archbold athletes that represent their school on the softball diamond, in the end are all important. Each and every position has been the key to their successes through the years. "I think one key attribute is their mental approach to the game," Frank shared. "Most of these athletes are multiple sport athletes who have had a lot of success in other sports as well. The athletes expect to do well, not because they are entitled, but because of past successful experiences. We try to push and challenge them, but most are self-motivated, which makes the job of the coaches much easier. "
Now the Blue Streaks are ready to make the Division III tournament run. It is not unlike preparing for any game according to their coach. "Our preparation for tournament isn’t a whole lot different from regular season," Frank said. "One big difference is that during tourney time, there are more chances to practice. When the regular season consists of 25-27 games in 6 weeks, there are not that many opportunities to practice. We also know that regular season success does not guarantee a tourney run so we emphasize the one game at a time philosophy.
Archbold will join NWOAL teams Delta, Evergreen, Liberty Center and Swanton in the Maumee District Tournament. The second seed Blue Streaks will face Woodmore to start tournament play.
" I have been blessed with the opportunity to coach high character kids who mostly care more about the team than individual accomplishments," Frank concluded.
Over the last four years two names have been synonymous with excellence in NWOAL Cross Country and Track and Field circles. Brittany Atkinson, of Liberty Center and Taylor Vernot are two of the most decorated runners, not only in the NWOAL, but in the entire state of Ohio.
Both runners got their humble beginnings in running in each of their small Northwest Ohio communities. "I would not be the runner that I am today without the help and support of my current and future teammates, my family, and members of our community." Atkinson said. Vernot echoed Atkinson's sentiments giving her coaches all the credit. "Rebecca Stuckey, Joe Allen, Robin Fisher, and my dad, Tom Vernot, have all played a part in encouraging me, supporting me, and assisting me in a variety of ways through my years at Wauseon." Along with her coaches, Vernot gave credit to her competitors. "Running in races with such a high level of talent has helped me as a runner learn how to react to certain situations and has allowed me to gain the necessary experience that I often rely on in some of the higher level races."
Each of these running resumes are more than impressive. Starting with Atkinson, the Liberty Center star finished first at the Division III State Cross Country race her freshman and junior seasons. She was in the runner up spot in her sophomore and senior seasons. However Brittany's fastest time came in her final run covering the 3.2 mile course in 18:05.54. "I personally enjoy cross country over track because there is more of a team atmosphere and I prefer the longer distance." Atkinson has competed in the Division III 3200 meter run the last two seasons at the Track and Field meet. Her sophomore year she finished fourth in 11:03.73, last season she claimed her first state title in the distance event with a time of 10:53.48.
Vernot's running history is equally impressive. Taylor does not know what it is not to qualify in state races. Her Cross Country career includes a Division II state championship in 2013. Vernot's winning time of 18:04.40 was the fastest time in all divisions on that day. She ran 12th her freshman year, fourth her sophomore year and third this season. On the track, she is a three-time state qualifier in the 1600 meter race and has twice competed in the 3200 meter race. Last season's 1600 meter time of 4:53.34 propelled her to a second place finish. She came back and was able to finish third in the 3200 meter run in 11:11.44. She was 10th her freshman year in the 1600 and sixth her sophomore season. Each season's time was better than the previous run. She improved from 11th to third in the 3200 meter run. Like Atkinson, Taylor prefers Cross Country. "I enjoy the variety of courses and scenery during races as opposed to track where each meet is virtually the same thing," Vernot said. "Also, in Cross Country you have more time to work with, so sometimes it is easier to set yourself up tactically than in track where you only have a handful of laps."
Both runners are totally committed year round to the sports they love. They have similar off-season schedules. Both runners use the winter to basically stay in shape waiting for the next season to commence. "During the off season, I enjoy putting in easy base miles to prepare me for my upcoming season," Atkinson explained. Vernot also works on base mileage. "For me, the off season is more about building up base mileage and endurance again so I can be prepared for the regular season when the harder workouts begin." The workouts are obviously proven as the two runners can be seen on state podiums without fail.
The two have differing views about their goals for the spring. "My goal is to perform the best for my community and school. I don't have a set goal time that I would like to run, and prefer to focus more on place," Atkinson said. Vernot is more time oriented. "My goals for this track season are definitely set high, but I think they can realistically be accomplished. In the 800, my goal is to officially break our school record of 2:18 by the end of the season. In the 1600, I want to run under 4:50, and in the 3200 I want to break the 11 minute barrier and dip into the 10s for the first time."
With the duo's high school careers ending comes running at the college level. Both runners, to no one's surprise, will be competing at the Division I level. Atkinson will be competing for Ohio State while Vernot has chosen the University of Dayton.
"This fall I will be running for their (Ohio State) Track and Cross Country teams," Atkinson said excitedly. "I currently plan on majoring in nursing. I chose Ohio State because I really enjoyed their coach and the girls on their team. Deciding on a college is different for everyone, but OSU was the place where I felt most comfortable, while still receiving a high quality education and being a member of an elite team. "
Vernot will study pre-medicine at Dayton. "For me, the college decision was extremely tough because I had no previous idea of what type of school would fit me best along with running being a factor as well. I chose Dayton because I like the smaller school atmosphere and that it is fairly close to home. Also, their up-and-coming Cross Country and Track programs paired with a wonderful coach made it clear to me in the end that Dayton is the school that is best for me."
Hats off to these two great champions who have made sure everyone in running circles in Ohio and beyond knows where Liberty Center and Wauseon are located and that they are proud members of the Northwest Ohio Athletic League.
By Bill Bray
The NWOAL is losing the two top female scorers at season's end, but the league's loss is Ursuline College's gain. Delta's Brigan Wymer and Wauseon's Natalie Koenig will depart for the Great Midwest Athletic Conference's Ursuline Arrows to become teammates.
Wymer will be leaving high school hoops as the all-time leading scorer in the history of NWOAL. Her 1762 points is 150 points better than Archbold's Gene Goehring's 1612 points and 111 points better than Evergreen's Lauren Langenderfer's 1651 points.
The modest Delta standout keeps that statistic in perspective. " What we achieve as a team is way more important than what I achieve individually. After all basketball is a team sport, not individual," Wymer said.
Wyler's coach, Ryan Ripke, substantiated Brigan's point. "Brigan really doesn’t care about stats or awards," Ripke said. "She found out how close she was to 1,000 points a day or two before she did it. She has never gotten very excited about being named to 1st or 2nd team or being Player of the Year or anything. She has always been the same person. Her main focus has always been winning and competing. I think she is the most disappointed player on the team when we blow somebody out because that means she has to sit most of the 4th quarter and she HATES that! It has been a pleasure coaching Brigan the past 4 years."
Meanwhile in Wauseon, Natalie Koenig has led her team's offense for three years. This season she is again her team's leading scorer with 408 points scored.
Natalie, like Brigan, puts individual accolades after her team. "For me it is way more important to achieve as a team," Koenig said. "Individual achievement is great, but there is nothing better then getting your whole team involved. I came into this season with the mindset of 'I am willing to do anything to win, whether that's scoring, guarding the best player, or passing.' The less you pay attention about individual stats, the more successful the team is going to be. When a team has that mind set, they are hard to stop."
Her coach, Ashley Oyer could not agree more. "Obviously Natalie has been our go-to player these last two years," Oyer began. "She has a knack for being able to create for herself and get her teammates involved by drawing defenders and dishing. This year I feel she has improved defensively. She has also improved her free throw percentage this season. Because Natalie can create for herself and others, she is going to be successful at the next level."
Each of the talented ladies has been more than happy to be raised in the communities of Delta and Wauseon.
"I feel Delta has taught me how to be a good team player," Wymer offered. I will leave with the memories of winning a league title and scoring over 1,000 points, what more can I ask."
Koenig, involved in basketball from the time she was in grade school, has some fond memories of Wauseon as well. "Ever since I was little my Wauseon coaches have always taught us how important team unity is," Koenig said. "They also always stressed the importance of "we before me."
Now as the future is quickly approaching and ironically enough, these two terrific basketball players are off to the same college.
Ursaline College, located in Pepper Pike, Oh, in the Cleveland area is a Division II school and member of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.
Wymer and Koenig will be teammates for the Arrows, a departure from being 'friendly' rivals for the past four years.
"Brigan does a nice job of getting to the rim and drawing the foul, and knocks down the free throws," Koenig said of her new teammate. "She also has a high IQ for the game. Brigan wants to win just like I do, which makes me even more excited to be future teammates."
Wymer was equally as complimentary of her new teammate. "Natalie is one of the hardest workers I know and is very dedicated," Brigan said. "If she's left open she will make any shot."
It was a complete surprise for Koenig when she found out Wymer would be joining her at Ursuline College. "I actually had no clue that she was even thinking about Ursuline before I verbally committed," Koenig said. "But I did know she was going to Ursuline before I signed. I remember the day I found out Brigan had verbally committed I was so excited."
Wymer gives Koenig some credit for her college decision. "Yes, before I signed I knew Natalie was going to Ursuline, she's one of the reasons I chose to go there."
But now, it may turn into a competition all over again and how do the ladies feel about that? "No I don't feel as if it will be a competition between us because we'll always be there to support each other," Wymer said. "I'm really looking forward to play with her instead of against."
Koenig had a little different view, however, "There might be a little competition, but I think competition is good," Koenig said. "It makes you work harder. I think coaches will play the best players regardless of their position."
Regardless of the basketball court, both ladies realize that it is an extra curricular activity. Now that the college life is starting so are the rest of their lives and they are well aware of that. "My first goal is to complete a nursing degree, Wymer said, "and my second goal is to be successful on the court."
Koenig echoed those sentiments. "First and foremost I want to get a quality education and that is one of the reasons I chose Ursuline," Koenig said. "I plan on going into the medical field and Ursuline has a great program for that. It's very exciting to know the three other girls that have committed to Ursuline from the class of 2015 are very good and I'm really looking forward to playing with them. I hope to grow as a player even more, and I think Ursuline will give me that opportunity. "
Oyer said this about Wymer, "Brigan has been a staple go-to player in the Delta program for the last four years. She is a great player and she does an excellent job of creating shots and getting to the basket. She's a hard-working player and is tough to defend because she can post and she can step out on the perimeter. I am excited to watch Brigan and Natalie play together these next four years at Ursuline."
So the two rivals from northwest Ohio and living eight miles away from each other have to go 140 miles away to become teammates, life sure takes interesting twists. The best of luck to two basketball players that will not be soon forgotten in this neck of the woods.