Comet made a commitment for senior year

CONRAD – It took a commitment to the game of softball to get the old ball coach to return. It took a return of the old ball coach to get her to commit.

No matter how the cause came to be, the effect was a 23-win season – after winning only five in 2015 – from the pitcher’s circle and a trip to the state tournament.

For that, BCLUW pitcher Olivia Callaway earned selection as the 2016 Times-Republican All-Area Softball Player of the Year.

Callaway first and foremost is a volleyball player. That’s her sport, her passion. She’s pursuing that passion beyond high school as she is playing volleyball at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. So when it came to other sports, she would play them, but they were secondary to volleyball.

But when David Lee was approached about returning to the softball program as the head coach after three years away from the third base coaching box, he said he would only do it if he got a commitment out of Callaway and the rest of the Comets to play at a level they had never played before.

Lee’s return got Callaway to make a recommitment to the sport, and it took her to a new level. Callaway said she likes to think she talked Lee out of retirement.

“He sat us down and said, ‘If you’re willing to put everything into this, I’m willing to put everything into this.’ If we put everything into it, good things will happen,” Callaway said. “That’s what he told us the whole time. He just made us believe in ourselves.

“I had a feeling he would do it. Last year when (Casey Moberly announced she wouldn’t return as BCLUW head coach), we were hoping he would do it. When he started picking up pitching, we all thought, ‘Yup, he’s going to do it.’ One day he finally said, ‘I don’t want to do this, but I will.’ That’s just what we needed to hear.”

The new commitment was actually starting to take shape during the basketball season, as Lee is also head coach of the Comet girls’ basketball team. It was then that Lee told Callaway if she wanted to get the most out of her senior year, it was on her to make the commitment and take the reins of a leadership role with the Comets.

“She’d come off of kind of a subpar volleyball season, and volleyball is her sport,” Lee said. “I think she grew as an athlete and as a person during basketball. I think that’s where I really saw the turnaround. The commitment she made to softball and the way she responded making sure the team was on board with them getting to the goals those seniors wanted.

“She happened to be the pitcher, so she had more to do with it than anybody else did. It all goes back to the time she committed that she was going be as good as she could be this year. That hadn’t happened in three years in softball.”

The softball season started, and it was the game on June 7 at East Marshall that Callaway, in a game she didn’t even win from the pitcher’s circle, knew there was something different about the 2016 season. Trailing the Mustangs heading into the seventh inning, the Comets tallied three runs for 6-5 road victory. Callaway went 2-or-3 at the plate with a double and two RBIs, while Samantha Ubben pitched the final two innings, earning the victory.

The Comets fought their way through the rest of the schedule, earning themselves the NICL West Division title. A nine-inning thriller in the regional semifinal against conference foe West Marshall, a game in which Callaway struck out 14 batters while tossing all nine innings in the 2-1 victory, put the Comets one win away from a trip to Fort Dodge and the state tournament.

The second-ranked team in Class 2A, Cascade, stood in BCLUW’s way of making that trip. Callaway pitched six innings on Cascade’s home diamond, only allowing a run and walking just one batter while striking out 10 to lead BCLUW to the 5-3 upset win. The win set up a date with the top-ranked team – Durant – in the opening round of the state tournament.

It was then when Callaway’s commitment and hard work dedicated to the sport shined through. The Comets and Wildcats played a stalemate, 11-inning marathon. Callaway stood her ground from the pitcher’s circle as she tossed all 11 innings, and in the top of the 11th, Callaway notched an RBI double – her first hit of the postseason – to give BCLUW a 2-1 win.

While the win against Durant turned out to be BCLUW’s final victory of the year, it still set the Comets up for their fourth-place finish at state.

“We saw what we had to do, and we just had the drive this year,” Callaway said. “In the past years, we thought it was a given for us to get to state, but then we hadn’t. So, this was our last year, and we knew we had to put everything we had into it.

“This is the first year the younger classmen have supported the upperclassmen and vice versa. The past few years it’s been someone else’s success is not the team’s success. This year it was everybody’s success was our success.”

Callaway finished 2016 with a 23-3 pitching record. Her 0.61 earned run average ranked second-best in the state of Iowa across all classes. She showed great control, striking out 204 batters, while surrendering just 21 walks all year long. Her stellar senior season came off a junior campaign that saw her compile a 5-6 record, but she did finish 12-4 as a sophomore. For her career, Callaway finished with a 59-22 record, a 1.01 ERA (78 earned runs in 535 1/3 innings pitched) and 643 strikeouts.

“She made a personal commitment to be better, it happened and it worked out for her,” Lee said. “All the pieces fell into place, but it all started back in the spring when she committed to being the best she could be.

“She just matured as a human being, as an athlete, and maybe even as a student-athlete. She became more of a team person. I think she went through a period of time where everything was for her or she was trying to get her goals accomplished. What I saw was in basketball and softball was she became more team oriented. She brought the other kids along and raised them to the level of expectations. That was one of the biggest things that happened to her was she just matured as a person and became a leader.”

Callaway said the way her senior basketball and softball seasons went under the tutelage of Lee helped her prepare for her college life as a volleyball player.

“It was nice to have two other seasons that were really great leading me into college where I kind of know what my role should be going into college on that team,” Callaway said. “Great seasons, it just helps things end better. You have better closure.

“It’ll be fun to see what the next level will bring for me.”