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WIAA softball: Team approach has made all the difference in Verona’s Big Eight title run

May 16, 2019

It has taken more than Meghan Anderson’s right arm and Molly McChesney’s left-handed slap hitting to help the Verona softball team soar this spring.

After all, both were key players last year, when Verona went 14-4 in the Big Eight Conference, finishing second behind Sun Prairie, and lost to the eventual WIAA Division 1 state champion Cardinals in a sectional semifinal.

That was a good year. This year, so far, has been a great one — because, they say, the Wildcats have built their successes as a team.

Boosted by two close victories over Sun Prairie, the Wildcats are 18-4 overall and 16-0 in the Big Eight. All four of their losses have come against out-of-state teams — two Ohio teams during an early trip to Florida, and two Illinois teams.

Verona clinched at least a tie for the Big Eight championship on Tuesday with a victory over Madison La Follette — the same day the Wildcats climbed to the No. 2 spot in the final Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association’s Division 1 state rankings.

McChesney, a center fielder, is hitting .597 with a .662 on-base percentage and a team-leading 44 runs scored — one fewer than the total of earned runs Verona has allowed.

Anderson, who has a 14-0 record and ERA below 0.65, said those statistics haven’t mattered as much as another key factor: Teamwork.

“The team is more of a family,” the senior pitcher said. “Last year, we worried about individual stats, rather than coming together and having a common goal.”

The Wildcats’ veteran coach, Todd Anderson (no relation to Meghan), agrees. He said his players learned from the three losses they suffered against Sun Prairie last year — and made an effort to apply those lessons.

“One of the things we noticed was how much more together, how much more of a team, how much more of a family they looked and behaved on the field,” Todd Anderson said of Sun Prairie. “They sure seemed like they cared for each other, that they had each other’s back, and what they wanted was for the collective.

“So we made a concerted effort to try to find how we can be that way (and) how we can emulate that.”

“It’s just so exciting to see how well this team is getting along,” McChesney said after the Wildcats’ second victory over Sun Prairie. “That has a lot to do with how we are performing. We may not be the most talented team, but we get along really, really well. … So, I’m really excited going into the rest of conference and the playoffs.”

“Anytime speed is on the bases, whether it is me or anyone else, it just makes the defense feel like they need to rush a bit,” McChesney said. “That is how I benefit the team the most. Just being able to mess with the defense, make them work and, hopefully, force them to make a mistake.”

By playing as a team, the Wildcats’ leaders — and their teammates — have raised their individual games. McChesney has signed to play next year at NCAA Division I Akron, and Anderson will pitch at Northern State, a Division II program in South Dakota.

And by raising their games, they’ve set an example for others, not only for this year’s key players — such as shortstop Kasie Keyes, first baseman Alyssa Bostley, catcher Katie Pederson and third baseman Sydney Toman — but for down the road.

Todd Anderson said Meghan Anderson has led by example by working hard “perfecting her craft,” by going out of her way to get to know her teammates, and by “exuding calm demeanor in the circle.”

Or, as Meghan Anderson simply puts it: “Keep the ball low, and as long as I (am) able to hit my spots, nothing but good could come.”

“It’s so fun to watch her pitch,” McChesney said. “I’m kind of sad I don’t get too many balls in the outfield. Seeing where she has come from freshman year, I could not be more proud of her.”

If the Wildcats are to achieve their team goal of making it to the state tournament, it’s likely that another showdown against Sun Prairie will be necessary. Both teams are in the Verona sectional, with Division 1 tournament play starting on Tuesday with regional semifinals.

“We have to take care of business. We have to finish strong,” Todd Anderson said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if (Verona and Sun Prairie) see each other again.”