There may be some exceptions, but high school coaches will almost unanimously tell you that “senior leadership” is one of the most important ingredients to a successful season. That fact is what made Lincoln-Way East’s IHSA softball state championship run in 2002 that much more impressive.
The 2001-2002 school year marked the first year of existence for Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort (the school is located in a building that previously served as a fresh/soph. campus), meaning that Lincoln-Way East had only freshman, sophomores and juniors roaming its hallways and populating its rosters that year.
Then Lincoln-Way East Athletic Director Dave Brost (below right in '02)
chronicled the feat, the lone IHSA state championship by a first-year school in IHSA records dating back to 1893, with his 2010 book “We Can Do This
With the Griffins returning to the Softball State Finals in 2014, Brost took a few minutes to reflect on the 2002 season:
Q: What does the 2002 season mean to you now looking back?
: It’s been twelve years since it happened, and when I look back, I still can’ believe that it happened. It is a tribute to sports, your season record doesn’t mean much once the postseason starts. It’s just like college or pro sports, the best time to get hot is end of season going into playoffs…as long as you have the chemistry.
Q: You talk a lot of about team chemistry in the book. That is obviously not quantifiable like a stat, so how would you explain the chemistry of that team?
: Nobody thought they were the star of the team. Each player realized that the people on the field and on the bench had a certain role. They were all just waiting for their opportunity. A lot of credit goes to Coach Aimee Lonigro and her coaching staff for instilling that in the kids. In the postseason, they approached every game like it was the last game. They were probably naïve because of their youth, but I don’t think they felt any pressure, they just played like it was another game and filled their roles. Without that chemistry and trust in each other, I’m not sure it would have ended like it did.
Q: You also talk about superstitions in the book. Both you and the team had quite a few. Do any of them still stand out?
: After we won the Minooka Regional, (head coach) Aimee (Lonigro) came to me and said ‘I want to get a different bus driver.’ Our bus driver Bill was pretty slow at the wheel and Aimee was worried about cutting it close, especially traveling a bit further to Morris for the Sectional. I told her that Bill drove us to Minooka twice and we won both games and he was going to drive us to Morris (laughs). We kept Bill as the bus driver through the entire State Series. I drove behind the team bus on the way to state in East Peoria and got to see firsthand what she meant. People were blowing by him on the highway (laughs). Once we were in East Peoria, we ate at the same restaurant, same table, same food every day. It didn’t win us any ballgames, but mentally it might have helped. There were some strange things that happened with that team. They had the most losses ever (11) for a state champion at the time (broken by Marist with 15 in 2012).
Q: Can you pick out a favorite moment from the postseason?
: There are two things that stick out. In the first game of the Sectional, we were playing Lincoln-Way Central and they had Laura Severson pitching. Laura was an All-Stater who went on to play at Stanford and we were down 2-0. Honestly, I wasn’t sure we would be able to rally. Then Lauren Von Holst hits a home run that was just barely, I mean just barely, inside the foul pole. I don’t remember if it tied the game or gave us the lead, but it gave me that feeling that these girls’ were never out of it. The second was when we beat Glenbard South 1-0 in eight innings in the Super-Sectional game to go to state. Come to think of it, Lincoln-Way East beat Edwardsville in a one-run game in eight innings this season in the Super-Sectional. They played that game in Normal, which is who we beat in the 2002 title game. There are some other similarities there as well…several losses (10) and Sandburg being in the state final field. Here we go again!
Q: Will we ever see a first-year school win a state title again?
: No, never. First off, there aren’t many districts building new schools right now. Second, for that to happen once is almost impossible, let alone twice, I don’t see it happening. I don’t know why it happened, but it was the genesis for me writing the book.
Q: Will you be in East Peoria this weekend?
: No, my grandchildren have baseball games and tennis matches all weekend. That is my main focus now, but I’ll be following all the action on my phone. I am proud that I served as the Athletic Director at Lincoln-Way East for 13 years, but prouder that the beat goes on and they continue to have a lot of success.
Some other things worth noting on LWE ’02 & ’14:
-Lincoln-Way East is having a storybook year in 2013-14. The school has won three team state titles already (Cheerleading, Girls Track & Field, Boys Volleyball). If they were to win softball this weekend, they would become the 15th school in state history to win four team titles in a school year.
-In 2002, the starting lineup for Lincoln-Way East in the state championship game featured six juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen.
-In the 2002 title game, Lincoln-Way East rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits against defending state champ Normal Community. The Griffins scored four runs in the final three innings to win 4-3 against a Normal team that allowed four runs or more in just two games that season.
-Dave Brost self-published We Can Do This
in 2010. He retired as Athletic Director at Lincoln-Way East at the conclusion of the 2011-12 school year.