LIBERTY — It was the furthest seniors Brooke Niemeier and Raeli Howerton had reached in a postseason in their Liberty High School career. But, for them, the end result was not enough.
The two Liberty softball players are ready to part ways with a poor taste in their mouths after falling 6-2 to eventual state champions Blue Springs South on their home field in last spring’s state quarterfinal round.
“It gives us more motivation for this year,” said Niemeier, a two-year starter. “And we’ve come together and we’ll have to push through those games and overcome losses.”
In hindsight, the Blue Jays finished the 2018 campaign with a 26-6 record, conference title and its best postseason showing in recent memory. But being one step away from the program’s third final four trip only provided a stronger desire to go further this spring.
“As a team we have goals to get back to the quarters and beyond,” Howerton said. “We haven’t gone to (a state semifinal game) in awhile, so we want to make history and we want another board in our outfield, big goals for us this year.”
The Blue Jays, 2006 state champions, have the look of a team that could make a run, as they return seven starters after graduating three, including pitcher Joslyn Thieme.
“The kids have high expectations and us as coaches always come in with hesitations, but we bring back a lot of our offense,” Blue Jays coach Scott Howard said.
Senior Kelsee Mortimer and junior Ashton Maloney return as second team all-state selections. Mortimer is a Mizzou commit and both players have started since their freshman seasons.
“They put up some crazy numbers last year, so we’re hoping they can do the same this year,” Howard said. “We lost Joslyn in the circle and she had a great year, so we’re hoping that our other girls can step up.”
Howard added that Niemeier, Lauren Slocum and Mortimer will see time in the circle.
The Blue Jays will play a similar schedule this fall, including a shorter version of the Greater Kansas City tournament to open the season, the September Slam at home and at Liberty North on Sept. 27 and 28.
It’s a season that the Blue Jays are looking forward to, and one that the seniors are aiming for more to cap strong careers.
“We’re just going to push ourselves,” Howerton said. “That would just be a cherry on top to our great careers here.”