It’s been a slow build for Coach Bret Tuetken and the Hillsboro High School softball team in terms of frustration over the delay in starting the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 virus.
Coming off their first regional title in 13 years, the Lady Hiltoppers were scheduled to bring back several impact players from last year’s 28-win team. Unfortunately, the season, and everything else, stopped before it could get started on March 17.
“The first week or so wasn’t bad because we would have been inside with the weather, and our players were already getting bored with indoor practices,” Tuetken said. “But the last couple of weeks have been anxious times as a coach. We always tell the girls to improve their skills, but with a quarantine in place we can’t really ask them to do very much. Safety of everyone has to come first.”
By the time Governor Pritzker’s order to shelter-in expires, the Toppers will have had 24 games postponed, and that’s only if the order isn’t extended, which the IHSA has hinted would mean the end of the prep sports season.
“The worst, I think, is how I feel for the seniors with this being their last year,” Tuetken said. “But many players put in work year around nowadays and to possibly lose a season just stinks.”
The Lady Hiltoppers have four seniors this year, Shelby Houchlei, Chloe Beck, Shelby Ozier and Hannah Compton, who didn’t play last season, but returned to the team this year.
Houchlei, who signed to play for Kaskaskia College in November, was set to be the Toppers’ ace this year after giving up one run in 11 innings last year, with 20 strikeouts. Hillsboro’s starting shortstop in 2019 could also rake with the best of them, batting .414 with 30 RBIs, 21 runs scored and just seven strikeouts in 99 at-bats.
Beck was also among the top hitters for Hillsboro, batting .352 with 21 RBIs, while also showing the versatility to play several positions in the field. Tuetken said he was anxious to see Ozier play in in her first year for the Toppers since transferring from Houston High School in Missouri, where she earned first team all-conference honors as an outfielder.
Tuetken said that he has kept in contact with the team via the Toppers’ GroupMe app and has kept them up to date on what the IHSA has released. He’s also encouraged the players to stay active, if they can.
“We suggested to go outside with parents or siblings to play catch or whatever they can to try and keep sharp,” Tuetken said. “But that can be hard for some of them to do. It’s just really a hard time to do much.”
Just as important as keeping their softball skills up is keeping the team’s morale up, which assistant coach Lisa (Green) Lomprez helped with.
“Greeny sent out an inspirational video that was made by the Baylor and Texas Tech softball teams,” Tuetken said. “They really liked that.”
One of Baylor’s posts read, “23 playing as 1” and the same goes for the Lady Hiltoppers. The team wins as one. They lose as one. And unfortunately this year, they are on the sidelines as one.