By Greg Bates
ACN & Times-Press sports correspondent
It’s been a gradual process. One that’s been well worth the wait.
Two seasons ago, the Seymour softball team hit a low at 5-18. The young sophomores and freshmen on the team learned some valuable lessons about playing at the varsity level.
Last season, the Thunder improved to 13-11. It was a glimpse of what could be.
That takes us to this year where Seymour has had a coming out party.
“Last year we started coming around and obviously this year we have one more year under our belt, just more confidence,” sophomore pitcher Paige Weyer said. “From the start of this year, I could really tell this team could do great things. We keep proving that game after game.”
“Every year we think about it, ‘This is our year, this is our time,’” junior shortstop Raven Vanden Langenberg said. “Having it be this year, I think that’s just great having us all be together.”
With eight starters returning – seven of whom are upperclassmen – the experience was there. The girls just needed to prove that putting in all the varsity time at a young age had paid off. It certainly has.
“That’s huge for us,” said senior center fielder Zoe Moehring about having eight seniors returning. “It’s comforting and all that experience is awesome.”
Seymour is off to a 12-1 start to the season. Its lone loss was by one run to Shawano after the Hawks clawed back and won in nine innings on April 22.
The Thunder could feasibly be undefeated as the regular season winds down. The team has been rewarded for its great play, getting ranked No. 6 in Division 2 in the latest Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association/WisSports.net Coaches Poll.
“I knew we would be successful in our conference,” coach Karri Vanden Langenberg said. “Did I ever think we were going to be state ranked? No.”
In 2015 and ’16, Seymour combined to go 9-21 in Bay Conference games. This year, the team already has double digit wins in conference play.
Seymour is in the driver’s seat to win its first conference title since 2000. Entering the season, the players didn’t talk about taking the Bay.
“We knew there was a great chance, but we just kept that in the back of our mind and we just play it game by game and inning by inning,” Raven Vanden Langenberg said.
With everything culminating into this season, the players are having a blast on the diamond.
“We have such a great team,” Weyer said. “Everybody’s just always there for each other. It’s been so fun.”
“This is awesome,” Moehring said. “Such a cool experience. Great way to hit my senior year like this.”
“We are having loads of fun,” Raven Vanden Langenberg said. “I think this is the best year we’ve had in a long time. We just have great team chemistry and we get on the bats right away and we just have fun doing it.”
The girls are quick to point out that one major key to the resurgence of this year’s team is hitting. The Thunder players are swinging the bats very well.
“We’ve always been really good defensively, and this year our focus has been offense,” said Moehring, who has scored 17 runs. “We’ve brought it every game.”
Through the first 13 games, Seymour averaged 9.85 runs per contest and scored in double figures nine times.
“We worked a lot on it in the offseason, so that always helps,” said Raven Vanden Langenberg, who is hitting a team-high .563 with 24 RBI, 22 runs scored and nine extra-base hits. “Just getting in there and getting hits early. Our goal is try to get a run before the third inning. We just carry it and keep going.”
The Thunder is getting production from its entire lineup, not just from the top five or six hitters. Savannah Thielbar is swinging a hot bat at .489 with 11 doubles and 23 runs batted in. Weyer has a .386 batting average and 22 RBI. Joeley Bluma has added 22 runs.
As well as Seymour has been offensively, the team’s defense and pitching has been just as stable. Weyer has thrown the bulk of the innings with Bluma getting in a few games as a reliable No. 2 option.
Seymour surrendered just 32 runs in the first 13 games (2.86 per contest) and to go with two shutouts.
“This is our year and Paige is finally ready – she took the mound and she was going after it,” coach Vanden Langenberg said. “Pitching is key in this game, and we have it. We’re on a roll and we’re going to keep going.”
Another big reason for the Thunder’s success this season, which will never show up in the stat sheets, is the team’s camaraderie. All 11 players on the roster came up together through the Seymour program ranks, starting when they were 7 years old.
“Having that bond helps us in a game,” Moehring said. “When we’re down, we bring each other up and that’s what gets us through.”
The team members have spent a lot of time together away from the field, which certainly helps with team chemistry.
“They do crazy things like dress up and dinners and they just mold really, really well,” coach Vanden Langenberg said. “I don’t care what anyone else says, we always talk about, ‘You don’t have to be friends outside of the field, but when you step on the field, you’re family.’ This team, they’re both. They’re friends off the field and they’re family on the field.”
The players have worked hard over the years and they are starting to see their dreams come to fruition.
“Now we’re finally seeing what we worked for all those years playing together,” Weyer said. “Now it’s finally paying off. It’s really great.”
What would really be great is if Seymour could capture its first conference title since 2000. That would be a major goal to check off the list. Even better, the Thunder players would like to advance to state for the first time in school history.
The only ones that might be able to stop Seymour from a trip to Madison are themselves.
“If we just keep hitting, we’ll be very tough to stop,” Raven Vanden Langenberg said.
Zoe Moehring with her parents, Angie and Keith Moehring at parent night on Wednesday, May 3. – Submitted photo
Ashley Thomas with her parents, Stacy and Dave Thomas during parent night on Wednesday, May 3. Lady Thunder defeated Green Bay West 14-1.
– Submitted photo
By Greg Bates