Menomonee Falls Now All-Suburban softball outfielder Stephanie Cole looked around at the beginning of the season and wondered where all her friends were.
Fellow All-Suburban stars including pitcher Kelly Berglund, third baseman Brittany Robinson and catcher Justine Ertl, among others, had all taken their considerable skills and moved on the college and Cole and the few other holdovers (only three seniors total) were left thinking how were the Indians going to continue their decade-long string of success.
By relying on the new kids, who fueled a powerful 7-1 dispatching of dangerous Brookfield Central on May 17 and a n 18-0 rout of West Allis Central on May 20 to clinch a tie for their sixth straight Greater Metro Conference title in a row.
'We were really unsure of how things were going to go,' said the four-year letterwinning Cole, who will play softball at UW-La Crosse next year, 'but these younger kids stepped up and took control of their positions. Everyone worked together so well.'
And that included Cole and the remaining returnees making the newcomers like speedy leadoff hitter Lou Sciortino were welcome. All told the 17-person roster includes six sophomores and four freshmen.
'As one of the senior captains we needed to take them under our wings and make sure they felt comfortable,' added Cole. 'Make sure they knew that we had their backs. There just was a big difference in team chemistry this year. The difference is that everyone gets along so well. I think that's a big reason for our success.'
The Indians who finished their regular season against area nonconference rival Homestead on May 23, wound up in a tie for the GMC crown with DSHA at 12-2 in league play and were 19-4 overall entering the Homestead game. They earned the second seed and a first-round bye in the WIAA Arrowhead sectional. They will host the winner of Wauwatosa East and Waukesha West at 4:30 p.m. Friday, May 27 in a regional final.
Sectional semifinals will be Tuesday, May 31 and and the sectional final will be 4:30 p.m. Thursday, June 2 at Arrowhead. Falls lost in the sectional final last season.
Falls coach Lou Sanicola continues to be pleasantly surprised by his overachieving bunch.
'They've just exceeded expectations,' he said, 'and I continue to have high hopes for them to do well in the playoffs. You never know when you're going to have a clunker like Hamilton (a loss on May 12), but these kids have an attitude of 'Let's just go home and get after it tomorrow!'
'That's the great thing about softball and baseball, you usually have another at-bat or another game right away and you can start over.'
The Indians were very impressive against Brookfield Central, which wound up in third in the GMC. They scored four times in the third to take the lead for good and then relied on the steady pitching of junior Ciera Jones, who has stepped into the ace role this season, replacing the powerful Berglund.
Sanicola said that the Indians got their lead-off hitters again and again this game and that really helped jump-start the offense.
Sciortino got on four times this game and scored three runs.
Falls didn't waste any time against struggling West Allis, in the game that formally clinched the title.
The truly neat thing that game, said Sanicola, is that the Indians brought up freshman catcher Emma Neale from the junior varsity and she hit an over the fence home run in her first at bat.
'The kids were celebrating that more than anything else,' said Sanicola.
Cole and Sanicola hope there's more to celebrate in the near future. The team unity that was talked about as a leading factor and other intangibles will work in the Indians favor.
'The coaches are always talking about mental toughness,' said Cole. 'Just look past the mistakes and build to the next play.'