Will GT's win over Point open the door for area D1 softball teams to re-claim crown?
Victory offers sliver of light
Sitting in the front row of his former team's state quarterfinal win over seven-time state champ Stevens Point, Rich Anderson couldn't help but turn and give a little thumbs-up and a smile after Germantown's 3-2 WIAA state quarterfinal upset over Stevens Point on June 14.
Because he knows how rare things like that are for southeastern Wisconsin Division 1 softball teams as the northern tier of large schools have dominated the bracket since South Milwaukee last won a state D1 title in 1998 (Germantown, with Anderson at the helm, had won the crown in 1996).
"I wish there was an obvious answer," said Anderson, now the coach at Brookfield East, "because I really don't know why it's become like this. We (when he was coach at Germantown) always tried to test ourselves. We had the opportunity to go up to the Ashwaubenon Tournament (a four-time champ in its own right), but they always seemed to be a step above us."
Buried in tournament
And that trend continued this season, as the Kurt Raguse and Amy Barbiaux-coached Germantown bunch were 8-0 heading into the Ashwaubenon Tourney about a month-and-a-half ago only to get blitzed by Kimberly (four-time state champs), 8-3, Kaukauna (2010 state champs), 11-0, and by Point, 13-1.
"After that, we had to work hard to make them believe that they could compete with these teams," Raguse said. "That we had the talent to hold our heads even with them. But it took some doing."
But it got done.
How significant was Germantown's win?
Since South Milwaukee's title in 1998, the entire southern tier, but especially the Milwaukee area, has had a rough go of it in D1 softball.
The Madison-area based Verona squad has made three trips to the finals since 2001 (all losses) and Wilmot dropped a tough decision to Point last season, but the only true suburban Milwaukee area teams to advance to the championship round in the new century have been Oak Creek in 2005 (2-1 losers to Appleton North) and Germantown's North Shore rival Homestead in 2010 (6-0 defeat at the hands of Kaukauna).
"I really think the kids from that northern part of the state play more softball than we do (year-around)," said Homestead coach Dave Keel, who also led the Highlanders to finals' trips in 1983 and 1988. "We are starting to catch up and do some good things, but we're just not quite at that level yet of the Fox River Valley, or Chippewa Falls (the newly crowned champ) or Point.
"We get occasional teams and people now here. Our squad of a couple years ago (all-state selections Michelle Zoeller and Britt Schlaeger-leading the way) or (pitcher) Kristen Wood and Wilmot of a year ago.
"But it's just tough. They just have more of a history of (fast-pitch) softball up there in the (Fox River) Valley. They've hosted the world championships and huge tournaments are a way of life up there."
Start 'em young
"It's not a fluke thing," added Anderson. "Each school up there seems to have a well-established youth program. We have some good ones down here and the Germantown Little League does a nice job, but it seems that down here the (club) teams in general are more spread out (and draw from wider areas than the northern teams do)."
On the lower levels of state softball, southern-area teams have made some inroads in recent years, as in D2, Greendale won a title in 2006, New Berlin Eisenhower earned one of its own in 2008 and Union Grove claimed two in 2007 and 2011.
It's just that in D1, with its preponderance of teams in southern Wisconsin, it seems that the glass ceiling has turned into load-bearing cement.
Until Germantown took a good-sized chip out of it on June 14.
"That was quite something that the Warhawks did (with the win over Point)," Keel said.
"In the end, we did believe we could compete with them," Raguse said.
Now the question is, when will someone take that belief and use it as a jackhammer to that ceiling and bring back a Division 1 state softball crown to southeastern Wisconsin?
Only time will tell.
D1 title runs
Germantown gives boost to area squads.
MILWAUKEE AREA WIAA DI SOFTBALL CHAMPS (starting in 1976): 1979 - Menomonee Falls East; 1982 - Arrowhead; 1984 - Burlington; 1985 - Milwaukee Bay View; 1987 - Hartford; 1988 - South Milwaukee; 1996 - Germantown; 1998 - South Milwaukee
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