First time for everything
Tuesday, March 27 was just another day for some De Soto students and coaches. For others, it wasn’t.
It wasn't a great day for everyone. They didn't all wake up with the same thoughts; they didn't all approach their first varsity action in the same manner. Their teams didn't all meet the same fate, and they didn't all go to sleep with the same dreams.
Tuesday, March 27 was a very important day for a number of rookie Wildcats, and in the end there remained only two things that each held in common -- they were all representing De Soto High School, and they were doing so for the first time on the varsity level.
Carly Stanley spent the day a nervous wreck and fell asleep a hero.
Katie Williams woke up a nervous wreck and went to bed only satisfied: neither happy nor sad, just satisfied.
Andrew Konetzni woke up a man on a mission and fell asleep content and accomplished.
Jordan Burford didn't even have to wait for her alarm. She jumped from bed like it was Christmas morning and rode the emotional high all day long.
Rookies from top to bottom would shape the first day of De Soto's spring season.
It started with Andrew Konetzni and the boys tennis team. An avid player long before high school, the opening day action was only a debut of sorts for the aspiring freshman, and he had firm command of both his forehand and his nerves as he toed the serving line at the Too Big Invitational, hosted by Washburn Rural High School at the Kossover Tennis Center in Topeka.
"Andrew's been preparing himself for this," tennis coach Michael Sullivan said. "I didn't have to say anything to him. He was ready."
He buried his first two opponents with that same attitude, ensuring De Soto's day would start with a winning morning.
Konetzni drilled freshman Max Cooper of Washburn Rural in his prep debut, winning 8-2, then followed that up by beating Olathe East senior Nick Mader, 8-6.
"I've been playing for a couple of years, so I wasn't nervous," Konetzni said. "It went really well. My first couple of rounds were good."
To repeat: it wasn't a perfect day.
Konetzni's storybook start took a turn for the worse minutes after his No. 1 singles bracket semi-final match began. The day's overcast skies finally let loose and the initial smattering of drops gave way to a consistent rain. Play was quickly suspended and when it began again, Konetzni's momentum was gone.
He lost in the semi-finals to Steven Fletch of Seaman, 8-3, then fell again 8-3, this time to teammate Matt Edwards in the consolation match.
Things weren't going so well back at the ranch, either.
Williams and Burford sat just an hour away from their first high school softball game. They were both excited, but years and years of summer softball couldn't dampen the first high school softball game. They were both excited, but years and years of summer softball couldn't dampen the butterflies.
Williams and Burford weren't the only ones sweating the first-day jitters. Neither softball coach Sissy Fletcher nor baseball coach Joel Thaemert were new to the coach's box -- Fletcher was the lead assistant on last year's team while Thaemert spent 10 years as head coach at Russell High School -- but both were making their De Soto debuts with a 4:30 first pitch.
Thaemert was quickly calmed as his Wildcats roared with a seven-run second inning, and Fletcher soon felt the same way.
Burford bottled her excitement and played stellar at short stop, helping solidify what was an often porous defense from a season ago.
Williams, meanwhile, scored the first run of De Soto's season. She doubled to center field and scored one batter later, giving the Wildcats a 1-0 edge in the fifth inning.
De Soto activities director Steve Deghand was learning a new role as well as he watched the baseball quietly from a gate just beyond the dugout. Deghand, who resigned as head baseball coach to take his current position, nary said a word as he watched the kids he knew so well carve out a big lead.
His new duties required he be at both the baseball game and the softball game, going on just out of sight, but few questioned why he seemed to linger a second longer watching the baseball team.
"Is it hard?" he was asked.
"Yep," ended the conversation.
Relief came for Thaemert in the form of an Aaron Hanson bases-loaded triple. It capped De Soto's four-run fourth inning and gave the Cats the game via run-rule after Wellsville failed to score in the top of the fifth.
Again -- it wasn't a perfect day. Things turned somewhat sour as the softball team fell behind 3-1. Burford notched her first RBI in the bottom of the seventh -- she lined hard into left-center field and scored Meagan Bliss -- but it wasn't enough and De Soto lost its first game of the season.
As the final Cats went up for unsuccessful at-bats, Williams slipped away to the bullpen and began playing catch with her mother. The freshman who had already scored the team's first run of the season was about to make a debut of a whole different kind.
The world wasn't right for the De Soto girls soccer team either, especially for Stanley, who figured to play a huge role in her first high school game.
Like Williams and Burford, Stanley was no newcomer to her sport. She had probably logged more minutes on a soccer field than most of the rest of the De Soto starters, had played in tournaments near and far and had scored goals big and small.
And she was a wreck.
"She had been nervous for the last two weeks," Cat coach Darren Erpelding said. "I asked the players if they were nervous before the game and they all turned and pointed at Carly. She said he stomach was churning."
"I talked to (assistant football coach Tom Byers) before the game, told him I was nervous and said 'You'd think after you do this awhile, it'd go away.' He said, 'If it goes away, you're not human.'"
Stanley managed to start the game as she had so many others, but neither she nor any other Wildcat managed much early against Gardner-Edgerton, the season-opening opponent.
Stomachs were churning back at the baseball diamond as well. De Soto's sweet hitting from the first game disappeared and a flurry of walks gave Wellsville a lead.
Meanwhile Williams was finishing off a bullpen session with her mom and preparing for her first varsity start as the team's pitcher.
She flew through the first inning without any trouble and led the Cats again from the plate, bashing a ball to the center field fence for her second double of the day. She scored her second run of the day with a Bliss double soon after.
For the final time -- it wasn't a perfect day. Gardner Edgerton broke open a scoreless soccer game 20 minutes into the second half. Despite numerous opportunities, the Cats had been unable to generate many shots and Stanley's vaunted scoring ability was rendered useless.
Williams allowed a few runs on the softball diamond, then a few more and soon the team trailed 5-1.
Thaemert could hardly watch as the best pitcher from last year's regional-final team walked De Soto into a real mess and gave up three runs. The baseball team's bats went silent and the Cats could do little to make up for the gaff.
Stanley finally struck, hammering home a ball and tying the score 1-1 late in the second half. She scored her first varsity goal by playing a Nicole Radcliff pass into the back of the net.
Williams lost her first varsity game as a pitcher, but it really wasn't a bad day for the De Soto girls softball team or for Williams. The team came close to wins twice. It went a long way toward rectifying one of its primary problems from a year ago, the defense -- a Burford snag on a Game 2 rocket line drive up the middle underlining that point -- and afterward Fletcher beamed when talking about her girls.
Thaemert wasn't so ecstatic. De Soto lost the second game 4-1, never finding the pop that had been so plentiful in the first game. He addressed the team, then sent the boys scurrying around the field to clean up, brush up and prepare it for the next day.
He quickly grabbed a rake and began working the dirt near first base by himself.
"Want some help? I can get that," an assistant offered.
"Na," Thaemert replied. "It relaxes the soul."
The low-scoring soccer game stayed just that for 25 grueling minutes after Stanley tied it. Neither team could end the game by scoring at the end of regulation or in the first 10-minute overtime period.
Finally, Stanley took care of business.
She said it was both unique and it wasn't: she's scored countless goals in her life, but few that decide a game, and none that decide games she cared so much about.
She got the ball in front of the Gardner goal and hit it hard at a leaping goalkeeper. The ball didn't deflect back this time, instead bounding off the goalie's fingertips and lodging in the back of the net.
The game was over. The day was over and nearly 12 hours after it had begun, a whole crop of De Soto rookies went home dwelling on the good, the bad and the thrill of a season and a career just begun. butterflies.