Head coach Jennifer Fangmeier and her coaching staff were pulling for their Blair Bears.
The softball team hosted Elkhorn on Friday with a trip to the Class B State Championships on the line.
“Yesterday at practice Jen had them kind of practice the pregame ritual,” first-year assistant Dallas Roach said before game No. 1. “After they did 21 outs, they came in and were cheering like they were going to state. I had goosebumps just from that itself. It's a fun atmosphere. These girls are amazing.”
Unfortunately for BHS (19-12 overall), the Antlers (21-12) were the only Class B team to win a best-of-three district finals series on the road. They won the first game 7-2 and the second 10-2 to advance.
Blair was eliminated.
While Elkhorn hit two homers in the opener, Ayden Dick and Tessa Villotta — who played through a recent thumb injury — notched an RBI apiece for BHS. Freshman Kalli Ulven struck out eight Antlers in defeat.
Blair senior Hallie Lewis, meanwhile, capped her prep career with a two-run homer in game No. 2. It wasn't enough, however, as Elkhorn's Nyleigh Carbaugh led her team with three hits and three RBIs.
Instead of a trip to Hastings for the state tournament, the Bears ended their season with a B-5 District runner-up finish.
Still, the Bears' coaches couldn't be more proud of their crew. Before Friday's games, they spoke to the girls' success and about what made the 2020 squad special.
Assistant Monica Maly joined the BHS coaching staff in 2018 when the school officials hiring her to teach broached the subject.
“They're like, 'Oh, would you want to coach?'” the former Norris Titan recalled. “And I said, 'I never thought about that, but I'm glad you asked because I'll do it.' I just wanted to jump in and meet some different girls.”
This fall's seniors — Lewis, Dick, Carmen Warrick, Maria Chesson Julia Taylor and Hannah Koch — were sophomores when she started.
“I didn't even know their first names when I walked into the first practice,” Maly said. “Now, I feel like I can walk up to anyone of them and we can have a whole conversation about anything and everything.”
The coach said she's enjoyed watching Blair's softball stars come to be, seeing their first varsity at-bats, homers and every other event they'll never forget.
“They've just grown up so much,” Maly said. “They've really stepped up, and they know exactly the job each of them has on the team.”
Along the way, Maly has never regretted her decision to join the BHS coaching ranks.
“I love being around the girls,” she said. “Beyond just the field, too. Knowing what they're doing, having them say 'Hi' to me in the hallway and checking in with them.”
It's been an enjoyable journey together.
“They always tell us that they're so appreciative,” Maly said. “It makes me want to come back every year.”
Roach's own BHS softball career ended not too long ago. This year's senior class was in the eighth grade when she graduated, though they did have some crossover during summer weightlifting sessions.
Since joining the team during tryouts this past August, Roach has loved her experience with the Bears.
“I don't think there's been a day where I don't see them smiling, laughing and having fun with their teammates,” she said. “It helps a lot when you have teammates that you can do that with. It makes the sport a lot more enjoyable.”
Lewis and Warrick are among the players who Roach believes have built that chemistry. They've been supportive of their young teammates and, more than anything, welcoming.
“They're not just great softball players, they're really good people,” assistant coach Krystal Macholan said of the girls on her team. “On the field, off the field, they support one another. They support other kids at school. They make good choices.”
Fangmeier's longest tenured assistant has had two stints as a BHS coach. She's watched this fall's lineup excel at the plate, particularly in the beginning of the season and at the end as they swept through the subdistrict tournament preceding Friday's finals.
“I will tell you, it makes me a little nervous sometimes when I have to throw to them in the cage out there because I'm like, 'Please don't hit me. I'm old and slow,'” Macholan joked. “They hit it hard. I mean, top to bottom, I would say all 20 of these girls could step in and do some damage.”
And Blair's coaches feel fortunate to have been apart of the Bears' journey. As Macholan said, they're good people.
“How're you feeling today Macholan?” junior Mya Larson said, walking up to her coach with a big smile.
“I'm feeling pretty good Mya, how are you feeling?” Macholan responded.
“Amazing,” Larson said, contorting her voice to get a smile from her coach, too.
“And, also, they're so fun,” the coach said as the junior left and returned to warmups. “As you can tell.”
“This team is my family during the eight intense weeks of the softball season,” Fangmeier said Sunday, 48 hours after the final game of the season.
The coach said she cares for her players on and off the field, and watching them grow is one of the most rewarding parts.
“I've been lucky enough to be a part of this program for a very long time,” she said, noting the past four years as head coach. “(I've) loved watching my six seniors develop into the amazing women they have become.”
Friday marked an end to those six Bears' softball journey.
“The end of the year is always the hardest part, as we wish a group good luck as they move on. I am so proud of our team and coaching staff,” Fangmeier said. She looks forward to another opportunity to do it all again next year.