Midway through the summer, Pete Ramler stopped keeping track of his 12U Lawrence Phenix's win-loss record. Although most people measure success by wins and losses, Ramler realized his team could still have a successful season in other respects.
With a group of girls who were used to playing only 12-14 games a summer, Ramler simply wanted his team to become more competitive over the course of a 60-game season against teams that were usually older and more experienced at the 12U competition level. In that regard, Ramler's Phenix team had a successful 2006 season.
"No matter what the score was, they were always hustling," Ramler said. Their overall effort and improvement was outstanding, and you'd never be able to see that in our won-lost record."
When the summer began, Ramler knew he had his work cut out for him. He had never coached this group of girls and they had never played together. Priority No. 1 for Ramler was to figure out what positions his players were most comfortable at. This proved to be his most difficult task.
"It was a lot of trial and error," Ramler said. "You put someone in and they looked like they would do a good job at it and come to find out they weren't comfortable."
To worsen matters, because it was the team's first year together, the players were unsure of their teammates as well as themselves. But through practice and games, Ramler's team finally started to gel and trust the players around them.
The next step the Phenix needed to take was to get acclimated to the competition level they faced every week. This also took time because his players had to adjust from playing one or two games a week to playing five games in one weekend. Nevertheless, by the halfway point in the season, Ramler's players were finally getting the hang of it.
All of the Phenix's hard work finally paid off at a tournament in Johnson County. The Phenix went 5-3 in the tournament for a third-place finish, which was their highest of the season.
"The majority of teams that we played against, the kids were 12 and 13 years old and had played together for two or three years," Ramler said. "For them to play that well really boosted their confidence."
Ramler said pitcher Jalyn Brecheisen led the way for the Phenix in the tournament, putting in solid efforts in six of the team's eight games.
"She just did a wonderful job coming in and staying consistent the whole weekend," Ramler said.
Ramler said the Johnson County tournament marked a turning point in the season. After that tournament, his team stopped getting blown out and started fighting back when it trailed opponents.
Later in the season at a tournament in Blue Springs, Mo., another Phenix player shined catcher Alex Hill.
Despite temperatures in the upper 90s, Ramler said Hill caught all six of the Phenix's games without complaining and recorded eight unassisted outs and threw out a couple of base runners. Just as impressive were her observations behind the plate to help her pitchers.
"She calls all the pitches during the games," Ramler said. "She did a wonderful job paying attention and helping the pitchers call pitches. She managed all the games really well."
Individual efforts weren't the only moments that stood out in Ramler's mind. Ramler said a complete team effort in a back-and-forth game showed the strides his players had made. His team refused to lose the game and eventually won in the final inning.
"Every time that the team we were playing scored or did something well in the field, we were able to keep our heads up and answer," Ramler said. "If they scored, we matched it. If they had good plays in the field, we matched that the next inning."
The no-quit attitude his team demonstrated toward the end of the season was what gave Ramler the most pride, and without one player in particular, the Phenix may not have displayed the same attitude.
Of all the girls on the team, Ramler said pitcher MaryAnn Smith was by far the team's biggest emotional leader.
"She was always unbelievably positive," Ramler said. "She was great when it came to always cheering and looking for the positive things that happened. We could just have an awful inning, and she'd come out to remind someone they had a good catch."
Looking ahead to next season, Ramler said the Phenix would only lose two players from this summer's roster. As a result, Ramler is looking to turn the tables on the competition next season, and so are his players.
As the season ended, Ramler said players were asking if the team still planned on playing together in the fall and next summer. Those quetions gave Ramler hope that his players are as excited about next season as he is.
"If the end of this year is any indication of how we're going to come together and play next year, I'm very, very optimistic," Ramler said.