Behind the plate

Lesley Ketterhagen gives her daughter, Kenzi, a lift after a travel ball tournament with the Lakeland Legends (Submitted/The Report).

Catching runs deep for Ketterhagens

By Jason Arndt
Staff Writer

Like mother, like daughter.

The Ketterhagens made family history last week when Kenzi Ketterhagen put on the catching gear for the Wilmot softball team at the state tournament, where her mother, Lesley, came away with the Panthers’ lone state championship in 1990 as a catcher.

Lesley Ketterhagen (then Peterson) remembered falling in love with the position as a sophomore in 1989 and wanted to share her passion for catching with her two children, junior Kenzi and senior Cullen, as they grew up.

“I kind of pushed both of my kids into that position because I didn’t start catching until I was a sophomore in high school,” she said. “I just loved the fact that you were so involved in the game and got the ball all the time.”

While Cullen decided to excel in track and field, where he qualified for state in back-to-back years, Kenzi said she opted to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Kenzi began playing when she was about 5 years old and heard stories from her mother, whose Panther team defeated Richland Center, 4-1, to claim the WIAA Class B state championship under the direction of coach Diana Kolovos.

“She always talks about how much fun it was and how she used to play and really loved the game,” Kenzi said as she recalled Lesley steering her and her brother to play catcher.

Although Kenzi and Lesley each played catcher for a Panthers’ state tournament, they both stayed versatile throughout their respective careers, including time at shortstop and in the outfield.

“I have always played different positions on the field,” Kenzi said.

“I have been playing outfield during travel ball because we have multiple catchers on the team,” added Kenzi, a member of the Lakeland Legends.

Earning time
However, Kenzi had to wait her turn as the Panthers’ catcher.

As a freshman, Kenzi started her career on the junior varsity squad, but she was brought up to the varsity ranks at the end of the season to primarily serve as a pinch runner for the 2017 state runner-up team.

“It was amazing, honestly; when you first get there, it is really breathtaking,” Kenzi said about her first state appearance. “We have had some great teams in the past three years that I have been on the team.”

Kenzi primarily played outfield as a sophomore before making the move to catcher for the 2019 season.

She credits her past experiences as a versatile fielder for allowing her a seamless transition to catcher.

“Over the years, making position switches has been easy to adjust to,” she said.

Making adjustments also involved adapting to the Panthers’ two primary pitchers.

While senior Madi Zerr is a left-hander, sophomore Anna Wischnowski throws right-handed, with both offering different pitching styles.

“Madi is a lefty and Anna is a righty,” Kenzi said. “Anna is actually a lower pitcher; she pitches lower in the strike zone. And Madi is more of a higher pitcher.”

Emotional drive
Before Kenzi and her Panthers took the field at Madison’s Goodman Diamond on June 6, Lesley admits she became emotional, considering Kenzi’s rise within the Wilmot softball program.

“It was pretty emotional driving up there. When she got pulled up as a freshman, she wasn’t super involved with the team yet … she did some base running,” Lesley said. “When she had this opportunity to go back there as a junior with the team as a catcher, I was thinking about it the whole way.”

Lesley, whose team won state as a junior, acknowledged she became superstitious and stayed silent about the parallels she and her daughter had in common.

“I just didn’t want to talk about it, though, because I feel like it would become a jinx,” she said. “I really hoped, and thought for sure that they would win it when she was a junior.”

While Kenzi’s team lost 1-0 to Pulaski in the state quarterfinal, Lesley noted her daughter stayed tough, indicating the younger Ketterhagen showed quickness and refused to allow any Red Raider base runners from taking big leads.

“I just thought that Kenzi was really good back there, she was very quick, she just made me really proud,” she said. “She is a tough athlete and I just love to see good things from her.”

Kenzi said she is fortunate to have the Panthers she has had since her freshman season and looks forward to playing another year behind the plate.

“I love playing with the girls that I have been playing with and I am really looking forward to next year,” she said.

With another year, Kenzi likely will continue hearing about the similarities she and her mother have, but she is not necessarily opposed to having these conversations.

“I just think it is really cool that people bring up that she was a catcher and I am a catcher,” Kenzi said. “I can almost say it is in my blood.”