Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Season-ending losses always sting.
Sometimes for a few hours, other times for a few days.
In the case of the regional final loss to Muscatine that ended City High’s season a year ago the Little Hawks were still smarting several weeks later.
“It lasted for a long time,” City High senior catcher Carey Koenig said. “I watched the state championship and kept thinking, ‘that could be us.’ It stung for a while.”
That loss to Muscatine, a 14-3 stunner at home that snapped a string of two consecutive state tournament appearances for City High, was a rare low moment for Koenig and senior classmates Ella Cook and Ayana Lindsey.
What the Little Hawks learned from that loss is what Koenig believes has City High poised to end this season on the highest of high notes at the Class 5A state tournament in Fort Dodge.
“I think that game in particular taught us that you have to push yourself if you want to win,” Koenig explained. “You can’t just think that because you have these great players so we should automatically be state championships you have to work together and that’s what we’ve done this year.”
Just as every season ending loss comes with disappointment most are followed by promises of increased work ethic during the offseason.
That was the case for City High but those promises were fulfilled with a fervor City High head coach Jeff Koenig hadn’t previously witnessed.
“Since last year when we lost to Muscatine Ella and Ayana have thrown so many pitching lessons and Carey has caught them and girls have been in the weight room and the hitting facility,” Koenig said. “It left a bad taste in their mouth and they didn’t want to do it again this year and I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”
To understand the disappointment of the loss that ended the 2020 COVID-shortened season for City High short of the state tournament you first must rewind two seasons.
City High was among the best stories in the state in 2018 when it reached the state tournament just a year removed from three consecutive losing season.
A year later the Little Hawks looked like they had arrived when they upset Cedar Rapids Kennedy to reach the 5A semifinals.
City High entered last season a state title contender but never got the chance, losing three of four to end the season including the 14-3 upset at the hands of Muscatine on its home field.
“We have definitely taken it one game at a time because we saw what can happen last year when you look ahead,” Cook said. “There are three games left that we can possibly play so we are focused on winning the first one.”
That loss channeled a team-wide focus for City High led by its all-state senior trio.
Suddenly you were the odd person out if you weren’t in the hitting facility or the weight room during the offseason.
Koenig, Cook and Lindsey led the charge in taking the offseason training to a new level.
“We’ve never worked as hard as we did this offseason, it was a good motivator going into the year,” Lindsey said. “We all thought a lot about getting back to Fort Dodge.”
The results have been exactly what City High expected.
City High (33-7) has won 25 of its last 27 games following an 8-5 start and brings a five-game winning streak into its 5A state tournament opener against No. 10 Ankeny Centennial (31-7) on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
“I think we had the mindset where we knew we had some unfinished business in Fort Dodge and we have something to prove to ourselves,” Lindsey said. “I think this year is our year to shine and we can really make it a long way.”
Just as they have been since jumping into the starting lineup as eight graders Lindsey, Cook and Koenig have led the charge.
The trio has combined for 20 home runs and 132 RBI this season.
However, the key for City High has been contributions from across the lineup.
Three other Little Hawks have at least two home runs, eighth grader Lianna Hull leads the team is with a .529 batting average and senior Cynthia Hull is hitting .336 with 27 RBI.
“That’s kind of what we learned last year is if we want to win it’s not going to be two people shining, it has to be everybody,” Koenig said. “That’s kind of what we have done this year. The energy is just so much different.”
As City High attempts to go disappointing finish to state champions this season the Little Hawks have followed the lead of a familiar foe.
In 2019 City High upset Cedar Rapids Kennedy in the 5A quarterfinals when the Cougars believed they were ready to arrive as a title contender.
Last season Kennedy won the 5A state title in its return to Fort Dodge.
City High believes it can follow a similar path this week.
“When our team looked it and I think they see Kennedy last year a little bit,” Jeff Koenig said. “We kicked them around a little bit the year before and what did they do? They went into the offseason they worked their tails off and they won a state title. I look at this team a lot the same. We have a couple of great pitchers, we have great players and it’s a lot like Kennedy.”