Softball: Pandemic dashes Panthers’ state hopes

Kenzi Ketterhagen waits for a pitch in a game as junior with the Wilmot softball team last season (Jason Arndt/The Report).

Wilmot softball sought 2nd straight appearance

By Jason Arndt

The Wilmot Union High School softball team had hopes of making its third Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 state appearance in four years entering the season.

The Panthers’ pursuit, however, came to a heartbreaking halt last week when the WIAA canceled the spring sports season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We want to extend our sincere empathy and regrets to all the student-athletes and coaches that have worked hard in anticipation of participating in sports this spring,” WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson wrote in an April 21 news release.

For the Panthers, they entered the spring sports season with high spirits, according to coach Jenny Jacobson.

Jacobson, noting her team’s excitement, was still absorbing the news of a canceled season.

“I was really looking forward to this season, we were going to have three teams this year, a lot of the girls really wanted to play softball at Wilmot,” said Jacobson. “A lot of these girls play softball as their only sport and to have that ripped away is just awful.”

Senior Kenzi Ketterhagen, the designated team captain, didn’t envision the WIAA canceling the season in mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and closed businesses.

“I thought, if anything, they would just postpone the season,” said Ketterhagen, who was part of Wilmot’s state runner-up team as a freshman.

As a junior last year, Ketterhagen served as starting catcher, taking pitches from a graduated Madi Zerr and current junior Anna Wischnowski.

However, with Gov. Tony Evers extending the Safer-at-Home order through May 26, including closure of public and private schools the rest of the year, the WIAA decision was inevitable.

“I never expected it to be as bad as it got,” Ketterhagen said. “I was really upset for quite a few days. It was pretty heartbreaking just to realize I wouldn’t be back playing with the girls and wouldn’t even have a shot at getting back to state.”

Bizarre experience
Jacobson admits it has been difficult to comprehend the loss of a spring sports season as well as closure of schools the rest of the year.

Jacobson, a Family and Consumer Science teacher, has not had in-person classes like all other instructors in the state since mid-March.

“I feel like I am still on spring break and just waiting to get back,” she said. “It is just a weird feeling. I honestly thought that we would be back, I think that it just me, I have more of a positive outlook, that is how I coach.”

Jacobson credited the WIAA for its attempts to have a spring sports season.

The WIAA, according to Jacobson, stayed positive on Twitter and repeatedly said the season would not be canceled.

But the inevitable happened.

“The WIAA did a really good job of that, too, on Twitter nearly every other day, they told us to stay positive and that it is not over yet.”

Cherish sports
Ketterhagen, who also played varsity basketball, said she learned about gratitude through playing sports.

“I contacted coach Jacobson and just told her how thankful I was for the great opportunity. I contacted Anna Wischnowski to say thank you and how much I will miss playing with her.”

Wischnowski, meanwhile, will have another opportunity because she is a junior.

Ketterhagen left words of advice to Wischnowski as well as other underclassmen.

“To the younger kids coming up, don’t take your time playing sports for granted because it could be taken away with the blink of an eye,” she said. “Play every game like it is your last.”

While Ketterhagen’s high school career closed, she will another opportunity at Madison College, where she will play softball and study nursing.

Ketterhagen saw nursing as an opportunity to help others and the recent COVID-19 pandemic made her career choice more interesting.

“I always wanted to help people. I feel like it is even more intriguing to me now.”

Jacobson believes Ketterhagen can succeed because of her personal and athletic qualities.

“She is just such a good person, she is extremely athletic,” Jacobson said. “(Kenzi) is one of the hardest workers and she is a great teammate.”