Center Grove Softball Coach, Players Reflect On Record 7th State Championship
Writer / Kevin Conrad
Winning a state championship in Indiana high school sports is certainly something to celebrate. Many high schools have never had the good fortune of hoisting the trophy and draping those coveted blue ribbons around their athletes’ necks. In June, Center Grove’s softball team did just that and it did it for a state record seventh time.
The heartbreak of losses in the semi-state round the past two years made this year’s victory even sweeter. The Trojans were on a mission led by seniors Abby Herbst and Piper Belden and first-year head coach Alyssa Coleman. The team played its best softball of the season down the stretch, winning 18 straight games and concluding the season with a 1-0 victory versus Leo in the Class 4A State Championship at Purdue University.
“We really focused on becoming a team that plays for each other instead of ourselves,” says senior shortstop Piper Belden. “We came to realize that games, practices and even the small things would flow so much smoother when we focus on our process instead of our outcome.”
The start of the season was a bit rocky with two losses in the first eight games, including the Trojans’ second game of the season at Pendleton Heights. The players were adjusting to a new coach after Hall of Fame coach Russ Milligan retired from coaching following the 2018 season. Alyssa Coleman took over the program after coaching Speedway to a 2A state championship last year.
“This season definitely started off slow, slower than we all thought it would,” Herbst says. “But I think all of the things we had to overcome truly helped us win it all. The adversity allowed us to come together as a team and work together towards a common goal: winning state.”
“During fall workouts, all of the previous players didn’t really know what to expect,” says junior catcher Lexi Fair. “Even at the beginning of the season, I was still trying to get used to the change in how things were being done. Coach Coleman did an amazing job at making sure things changed gradually. She was also a really great role model. She cared about other things than just softball which allowed us all to connect with her. She’s just an all-around amazing woman and it’s a blessing to have her as a coach.”
Coleman knew taking over the Center Grove softball program would be challenging.
“At times it was harder than even I expected,” Coleman says. “Change is hard, and in our game, it can be quite a hardship. I was extremely proud of the grace in which the girls handled the change and proud of the final outcome they were able to produce as a team. They demonstrated amazing character, and I am so glad it was this group of girls to lead this culture change.”
Coleman admits her approach to coaching is somewhat unique.
“I want to be remembered for being a coach that empowered her players to own their style of game and encourage them through the highs and lows to be their best self on and off the field,” Coleman says. “In any generation, being uniquely yourself is extremely hard, but I want my players to know they can be just that. So, when that success comes, they can look people in the eye and know it was their hard work that did it. No one can take credit for the work they did. The outcome is important and sadly what outsiders will be first to use in judging our success.
“However, I want my players to own their process and stay mentally positive towards their approach. I remind my players a lot, you are going to fail. I promise you that, but it will be how we fail and respond as a team that will matter most. Before all those outcomes, it will be the process and energy put forth to earn those special moments. Similar to interactions with people, they will remember you most for how you made them feel. As a player, it won’t always be what you did on the field but how you did it on the field that will be your legacy.”
The Trojans had four seniors, Herbst, Belden, Tess Lawyer-Smith and Addie Homeier. Fair credits the seniors’ great leadership in contributing to the team’s success.
“Abby was the type of person that picked you up with her actions,” Fair says. “If you made an error, she would just say, ‘I got you,’ and then go strike out the next six batters. Piper was the kind to give you a nice pep talk to get your head in the right place. Addie and Tess were both the type of people that would cheer you on after a mistake and say, ‘get the next one!’”
The Trojans had to overcome adversity to achieve its ultimate goal. Belden believes they persevered because they didn’t allow that adversity to tear them apart.
“This year was truly something spectacular,” Belden says. “We came together as a team, a program, a community, and we became something we can truly be proud of. There were a lot of things that changed this year and we used them to motivate us. Coleman really helped make this year’s team something incredible and I know this team is grateful for her.”