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Ashwaubenon softball is closing in on the record for most wins in a season

Ashwaubenon softball is closing in on the record for most wins in a season

Ashwaubenon’s softball program ranks second in state history with 16 trips to the WIAA state tournament.

It is one of only six teams to win three consecutive state titles since the tournament began in 1976, and one of 10 with four or more total championships.

With this kind of performance, it can be difficult to do something that hasn’t already been done.

Until now.

The Jaguars moved closer to setting a program record for most wins in a season after their 2-0 win at Bay Port on Thursday.

They were 21-1 heading into a weekend doubleheader against Manitowoc, just three wins away from tying the 25 wins that both the undefeated 1992 and 1994 teams had on their way to winning Division 1 state titles.

Ashwaubenon has four games remaining in the regular season and at least one in tournament play.

While setting a record would be nice, perhaps even more important is the Jaguars lining up to capture their first Fox River Classic Conference championship since 2019 and ending Green Bay Preble’s three-title streak queue.

They lead the Hornets by two games in the loss column with three league games remaining after beating Preble 2-1 on April 9 and by the same score in the rematch on April 30.

With such a young team – there are only two seniors on the roster – could this kind of performance have been expected, even with an impressive 2025 class led by star pitcher and University of Wisconsin recruit Berritt Herr?

“I guess I just have to say I’m very proud of this team,” Herr said. “We’ve been playing together since we were five, and it’s really just a bunch of best friends playing together. We are having so much fun and we are very hungry.

“These girls and coaches are some of the most selfless people I know, and we play for each other and for our school. We really wanted to make this year special, especially for our two seniors. They have really put so much time into this program and they are some of our greatest role models.”

Ashwaubenon overcomes injuries

The Jaguars’ depth has been tested since the first day of practice, with a trio of juniors missing all or nearly all of the season.

Addy Phipps tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during basketball season. Ava Mehlberg tore her labrum while playing volleyball. Anna Hermann played three games during Ashwaubenon’s trip to Florida in March, but suffered a shoulder injury shortly thereafter and recently underwent season-ending surgery on her labrum.

“They’re there every day and they contribute to every game they can,” said Ashwaubenon coach Shannon Van Laanen, whose team is ranked sixth in the state in D1. “Unfortunately it’s just not on the field. But it certainly still contributes to our success.”

Despite the injuries, the Jaguars haven’t missed a beat. They extended their winning streak to 20 with the win over Bay Port and have not lost to a Wisconsin team this season.

Their only loss came to a team from Perrysburg (Ohio) in the second game of the season at a tournament in Florida. The Yellow Jackets return their entire starting lineup from a 25-win team a year ago and feature several college prospects highlighted by Florida State recruit Hayley Griggs.

Ashwaubenon has allowed one run or zero fourteen times during his winning streak to start the weekend, while scoring five or more runs thirteen times, including ten or more nine times.

The Jaguars aren’t just winning blowouts. They found a way to win several close games in a competitive FRCC.

Along with the two wins over Preble, they defeated Pulaski 1-0 on April 15, Green Bay Notre Dame 3-2 on April 20 and De Pere 1-0 on Wednesday.

It’s what you’d expect from a group of experienced players, rather than players whose best days of preparation probably haven’t even arrived yet.

“It shows the mental toughness and excellent leadership of the girls,” says Van Laanen. “We talk a lot about trust in the process and not so much about the results. The results will come if you always do the little things right.

“I think they really believe in that. I know we believed in that and found different ways to win. If you look at a lot of those one-run games, every time it’s been someone else who has gone the extra mile. That’s something we might not always have had in the past: so much depth across the entire lineup.”

Herr has gotten even better in the circle since a strong sophomore season in which she went 17-5 with a 1.11 ERA while striking out 225 in 132 innings.

The right-hander improved to 13-0 after the win against Bay Port. She entered the weekend with an ERA of 0.49, while striking out 145 in 85 innings.

Ashwaubenon has kept her fresh by giving innings to both junior Jocelyn Wirth (3-1, 2.10 ERA) and sophomore Grace Aichele (3-0, 2.17 ERA).

Then there is a violation. An offense so deep that Wirth leads the team in RBI as the No. 7 hitter, including a walk-off hit against De Pere.

The Jaguars have eight players with at least 40 plate appearances hitting .333 or better, while Kahlee James, Elly Kirst and Herr all have three or more home runs. Ashwaubenon has a team batting average of .353 and a .903 OPS.

“We work hard and our coaches have very high expectations of us, which I think drives us,” Herr said. “We have so much trust in each other and the coaches, and we continue to trust the process.”

GIRLS FOOTBALL: Green Bay Preble is exceeding expectations under first-year coach Justin Callan

Difficult road to statehood

Van Laanen and his group are too focused on the present to look too far ahead to the future.

But every team in Ashwaubenon’s section understands how tall the task will be to reach state in Madison, with powerhouse Kaukauna once again standing in the way.

The Ghosts have won each of the last three D1 state titles.

It’s not just Kaukauna. Each team will likely have to win a match that will be more difficult than any match on the big stage. The regionals and sectionals are filled with the best teams from the FRCC and Fox Valley Association.

“That says a lot for our region,” says Van Laanen. “Our conference goes so deep, from Preble to Pulaski to De Pere this year, Bay Port, Ashwaubenon. Notre Dame keeps getting better. That’s five legitimate assets when you’re talking about the five teams in the conference. Any of those five girls over the years would have been first-team all-conference, hands down.

“Then you get to the tournament and, man, you’ve got Hortonville, you’ve got Kimberly, you’ve got Kaukauna, who are right at the bottom of the list. West-De Pere. There is so much talent in the region, it’s ridiculous. … I think the conference really helps prepare us for our region. By the time you get to Madison, you’ve already played one, if not two, of the best teams in that region.