The last time West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic did not qualify for the state softball tournament, the seniors on the 2021 team were in first grade.
The defending Class C state champion Bluejays are making their 11th consecutive trip to state and will be going for their third state title.
"Eleven years in a row. We're pretty proud of that fact," Guardian Angels coach Alan Kreikemeier said. "When I started coaching, I was thinking, if I can get our little school to state one time, and now we're at 11."
Besides last year, Guardian Angels earned a state title in 2014 as well as runner-up trophies in 2012 and 2019.
"We talked about it at the beginning of the year," Bluejay coach Alan Kreikemeier said. "Our goal was to get to the last game. We want to be one of the last two teams playing. Then we just kind of went, 'Let's go; let's see what happens.' ”
What's happened has been a 22-7 record and a No. 3 seed for the state tournament.
Of the Bluejays' seven losses, five have come at the hands of three other teams in the Class C field.
The Bluejays are 0-3 against top-seeded Wahoo Neumann, which comes into the tournament with a record of 30-2. Second-seeded and 28-7 Hastings St. Cecilia also has a win over Guardian Angels, as does the No. 4 seed and 27-5 Yutan/Mead.
But don't expect the Bluejays to be intimidated in Hastings. "The great thing about being there so many years is that all the underclassmen know what it's about. We go out and this is what we've got to do," Kreikemeier said.
Guardian Angels opens the tournament on Wednesday at 2 p.m. against No. 6 seed Freeman of Adams and Filley. The Falcons and Bluejays have identical 22-7 records and have had several common opponents, including NEN (Wisner-Pilger, BRLD and Pender), Raymond Central, David City Aquinas, St. Cecilia and Neumann.
The Bluejays defeated NEN while Freeman lost to that same team. Meanwhile, the results against the other teams have been similar for both teams.
Kreikemeier has four seniors and has leaned on them for offense — they are the first four hitters in the batting order — and defense, where they occupy four vital positions up the middle.
It all starts with pitcher Kayla Fischer. "She's thrown a million pitches," Kreikemeier said about his ace. "She's been overworked, to be honest, but she's hung in there really well.
"She's carried us all the way through this year. Games we didn't score, she didn't let other teams score."
Ironically, a year ago, few could have predicted Fischer would enjoy a dream season like this one.
"She only threw four or five games last year," Kreikemeier said. "She never threw a pitch at state and I told her, 'I think you're the second-best pitcher out here, for sure in the top five. Nobody knows about you, so go have a year.' ”
Another senior, Aubrey Kreikemeier, played shortstop last year, but before the season began in August, her coach asked her to take over behind the plate.
"I told her, 'I want you catching. You've got a strong arm, you're tough, now go get it,' ” Kreikemeier said.
Another senior, Katie Gnad, moved from left field to shortstop while Livia Hunke stayed at second base.
The Bluejays’ other infielders are both juniors: first baseman Leah Jansen and third baseman Brynn Baumert.
Another junior, Tori Buss, starts in right field while the other two outfielders are freshmen: Adyson Luebbert in center and Shelby Perchal in left.
Sophomore Kiley Pojar is the designated player while freshman Brooklyn Steffen and sophomore Sydney Hutchinson see action as courtesy runners when the pitcher and catcher reach base.
As the Bluejays get set for another state tournament run, Kreikemeier said he doesn't think his players are feeling any pressure.
"It's no different (than any other game). We've got to battle because we know (the opponents) are going to be hitting the ball and putting it in play," he said.
"These kids know that and they're already starting to talk about it. 'Don't get freaked out. Don't get worried. Just go out and play our game.' ”