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GENOA Tradition can be as equally hard to sustain as it is to establish, but the 2007 Genoa softball team continued to build on the program s recent emergence by rolling to another Suburban Lakes League championship.
The Comets went 13-1 to capture a second straight SLL title and posted a 21-2 overall record, a fifth straight season of 20 wins or more.
The program has won 119 games over the last five years. Last season, Genoa won its first SLL crown and posted the most wins in school history with 27.
Yet doubts remained with the departure of six seniors, including four starters, and the pressure of maintaining that standard.
Last year s SLL title being the first one for our school was very special and that was a challenge, coach Tom Kontak said. Then this year s challenge was to sustain that excellence and production another season with new players. We knew we had Shana [Szypka] in the circle and a core of five returning starters. They ve been fantastic. And the newer players have done a great job understanding their roles and expectations of the program. Both groups have gelled very nicely.
Genoa reached the Division III state semifinals last season and took off right where it left off by winning its first 16 games this year. The Comets then suffered their first loss, a 3-0 setback to Eastwood.
Genoa then won five straight to secure the title before its season came to an end Tuesday with a 5-0 loss to Rossford in the district semifinals.
The five key returnees did not miss a beat led by the senior battery of pitcher Shana Szypka and catcher Delaney Talmage.
Talmage led the team in batting average (.481), runs scored (31), runs batted in (19) and home runs (6). But Talmage said there were major doubts going into the season.
It meant a lot to be on the first team to win the SLL. It s an honor to be part of building the Genoa softball program, Talmage said. At the beginning of the year, no one was sure how we would be. It was iffy. That kind of upset us and we realized we could be just as good.
Genoa was consistently ranked among the top five teams in the D-III state coaches poll during the regular season as Szypka was again a force on the mound and at the plate.
Szypka, who will play at the University of Toledo next season, went 20-2 with a 0.33 earned-run average. She struck out 280 batters. She also posted 14 shutouts, carried a .377 batting average and had 11 RBIs.
Szypka finished her career with a 61-4 record and 0.53 ERA including 758 strikeouts in 4322/3 innings. She had 11 no-hitters (four this season) including two perfect games.
Coming into this year I don t think a lot of people thought we could do it again. But we came out and did what we needed to do, Szypka said. It s always a lot of work to get a program recognized. No matter what you do, people still have doubts. We still had to prove ourselves.
The three other key returnees also lived up to expectations they had built. Junior third baseman Lydia Eckel (.338 average) had a team-high three triples, drove in 17 runs and scored 16. Senior outfielder Abbey Kontak, the coach s daughter, finished with a team-high eight doubles, had a .329 batting average and scored 12 runs.
Junior first baseman Aerica Susor scored 10 runs and drove in nine.
They re right on par with the numbers they put up last year, Kontak said.
Kontak said he often talked to his players about upholding the new tradition. The Comets have posted a 119-20 record over the last five years and won two district titles over that span.
The main message is that standards have been set for the softball program at Genoa, he said. Our advice is to keep working hard and never take a shortcut. They trust each other and produce for each other.
Abbey Kontak said over the first 10 games the returning players tried to instill in the new players the type of attitude and work ethic it took to win consistently.
Going into last year there were not any expectations. Now we have high standards to live up to, she said. We had high expectations for them, too, and now we ve built trust in them. We ve turned it around the last few years and that will always be something to look back on. We re all so proud of where the program is now.
Genoa ended the SLL schedule by avenging the loss to Eastwood with a 3-0 victory and secured the crown with a win over Elmwood on May 9.
They came over and spray-painted our rock blue, so it was a really good feeling to beat them, Eckel said. It means a lot because softball never was much here. Now we ve come on a lot. A lot more people are supporting us.
But Szypka admitted the team wasn t sure what was going to happen.
We needed the new players to step up to our level. The bar has been raised even higher. We re 100 percent confident in the new players, Szypka said.
Coach Kontak said those that have filled those shoes admirably include junior infielders Jolynn Brossia (.322 average) and Heather Nino along with junior outfielders Kristen McDougle and Kelly Swartzmiller.
We have a new group of players that had never played a varsity game in their career and those young kids were coming in and seeing they had really good players to play with and there was a little pressure they felt to maintain that, Kontak said. All these small pieces came together.
Kontak said his main goal was for his players to compete every night and to care about each other on and off the field.
The win-loss stuff is what it is. I try to clearly define to each player what their role is, Kontak said. My players can count on that and they appreciate it. I think it s safe to say we have a tight group.
With back-to-back SLL titles safely secured in their pockets, the Comet players believe they have maintained a tradition they helped establish.
I think we ve gained some respect, Abbey Kontak said.
Talmage said the growing support of the Genoa community that carried over to this year was proof of the program s uprising.
We have great fan support now, Talmage said. Everyone knows about Genoa softball.