OTTUMWA — It wasn’t that Jena Lawrence was trying to make a statement this season.
It just happened to be a random choice of a headband that Lawrence just never bothered to change.
The word ‘legend’ stood out by the end of the 2020 high school softball season. The legendary headband was worn throughout a legendary season for Lawrence, who led the Albia Lady Dees to the first state softball championship in school history going 20-0 including a complete-game three-hit shutout pitched in a 1-0 win over Williamsburg in the 3A state championship game.
After failing to finish any of the final three games of her junior season in the pitching circle, including two state tournament losses, Lawrence refused to let almost anyone beat her team this summer. Not only did Lawrence allow just one run over 18 innings of state tournament play, the senior pitcher also had a team-leading state hits with six, including the decisive blow in the historic state championship win over the Raiders with a fourth-inning solo home run that ultimately solidified the first state championship for any Albia High School athletic team.
For all those reasons, Lawrence can add the title of 2020 Ottumwa Courier Softball Player of the Year to her list of accomplishments. The future Creighton Blue Jay follows her best friend and long time catcher, Alex Beard, who earned Courier player of the year honors last season as a junior.
Leading a team to state also earned longtime Fairfield skipper Bob Bradfield the title of the 2020 Ottumwa Courier head softball coach of the year. The Trojans entered the season ranked 11th in Class 4A and were hoping to break through after losing in regional finals each of the previous two years.
After a 1-0 loss at Albia on the second night of the season, Fairfield would not lose again until a 7-5 setback at state to Dallas Center-Grimes. In between, the Trojans won 14 games over Southeast Conference rivals and knocked off top-ranked Carlisle on the way to finishing the regular season ranked third in the state, earning the No. 3 seed in the 4A state softball tournament while finishing 24-2 in 2020.
Here’s a look at the rest of the 2020 All-Courier softball team:
Jena Lawrence, Albia, Sr.
There wasn’t much debate about Lawrence’s selection as the Courier player of the year. Going 20-0 during any softball season is worth high praise, especially when it ends with a historic state championship-winning complete game shutout. The two-time first-team all-state selection topped her win total from the previous season in which Lawrence went 18-5 in a complete season, lowering her 2.49 ERA down to 0.91 this past season while striking out 182 batters, 50 more than last year in a shortened season. Lawrence finished with 101 career pitching wins, earning her place in the state softball hall-of-fame, and struck out 941 batters in five seasons.
Allison Rebling, Fairfield, Sr.
While Lawrence had the best season of any area pitcher, Rebling was not too far behind going 13-2 this season narrowly losing a 1-0 decision to the Albia ace in the third game and second night of the season. The victory total in a shortened season matched Rebling’s All-Courier season in the pitching circle from the previous season, earning first-team all-state honors in Class 4A while helping the Trojans earn 22 straight wins and a state tournament berth, leading Fairfield by making 15 starts and 18 overall appearances while pitching 103 1/3 innings. Rebling struck out 158 batters, allowing opponents to hit .114 and issuing a 1.22 ERA.
Kacy Nickerson, Ottumwa, Sr.
Nickerson, like Lawrence and Rebling, earned returns to the All-Courier pitching staff after earning first-team all-state honors. Nickerson went 6-6 in a shortened season, lowering her ERA from her junior campaign in which she pitched OHS to a state tournament berth with a 2.35 ERA down to 1.88 this season. Nickerson struck out 84 batters, finishing her five years as a Bulldog pitcher right at 700 career strikeouts and 63 careers wins while adding a team-high 40 hits, a .485 on-base percentage and 23 runs scored.
Alex Beard, Albia, Sr.
No area softball player has spent more time behind the plate over the past five years that Beard, earning a first-team all-state selection for the second straight year. Beard did not commit an error this season in 221 chances over 23 starts behind the plate, finishing with just two errors total over the past three seasons. Offensively, Beard had a solid follow-up to a junior season that earned the future Indian Hills Warrior Courier Player of the Year honors in 2019, hitting .371 this season with a .614 slugging percentage and four home runs, a .430 on-base percentage, 16 RBIs and 26 total hits.
Claire Mathews, Centerville, Jr.
Mathews ultimately had to vacate her spot in Centerville’s main starting line-up at third base, taking over late in the season as the Redettes ace pitcher after Alyssa McElvain unexpectedly quit just nine days before the start of the postseason. Mathews ultimately started and played in all 21 games for Centerville, including 12 starts at third, earning first-team all-state and all-conference honors along side the likes of Lawrence and Beard. Mathews had just four errors while racking up a team-best 35 assists out of a team-high 84 chances defensively while leading Centerville with three home runs and a .667 slugging percentage at the plate.
Megan Stuhr, Sigourney, Sr.
Stuhr capped her Sigourney career at the plate with her team-leading sixth home run of the season, giving the Savages at the time a 14-13 lead in the 11th inning of a Class 1A regional semifinal slugfest with South Iowa Cedar League rival Lynnville-Sully. Stuhr finished with second-team all-state honors, powering the Savages from her shortstop position in 20 games earning first-team all-South Iowa Cedar League selection posting the second-best slugging percentage in Class 1A (1.082) while collecting 36 hits, 32 RBIs, 34 runs scored, a .590 batting average and a .649 on-base percentage.
Hannah Simpson, Fairfield, So.
Despite playing with a torn quadricep muscle throughout the season, the Trojans’ first baseman was a big part of getting Fairfield back to state after consecutive regional championship game losses in her first two seasons of varsity softball. Simpson led Fairfield for the second straight season in RBIs, racking up 35 while batting clean-up with 35 hits, a .432 batting average, a .531 slugging percentage and a .549 on-base percentage. Playing first base, Simpson led the Trojans with a .987 fielding percentage committing just two errors while making several impressive stretches despite the torn quad.
Kaylee Bix, Ottumwa, Sr.
The second IHCC signee on the 2020 All-Courier team returns to the All-Courier infield for the second straight year, earning third-team all-state honors in 5A while starting all 24 Ottumwa games at short. Bix led the Bulldogs for the second straight year in run production, driving in 24 runs in 24 games while scoring 22 runs, batting .284, slugging .444 and producing a .372 on-base percentage.
Coty Engle, Fairfield, Fr.
Engle’s All-Courier debut will likely be her only time appearing in the outfield with the expectations on taking over for Rebling as Fairfield’s pitching staff ace starting next year. At the plate, Engle had a career year leading the Trojans with 38 hits, nine doubles, a .543 batting average, a .676 on-base percentage and a .671 slugging percentage. The second-team all-state selection in 4A also playing errorless softball in left field and producing a perfect 11-0 record in the pitching circle.
Alexia McClure, Cardinal, Jr.
It was an overall solid junior campaign for McClure, who patrolled center field in all 17 games of Cardinal’s first winning season under the guidance of head coach and former state champion Comet player Sabrina Morrison. Besides leading Cardinal with a .571 slugging percentage, matching Caitlyn Reber with a team-leading two home runs, McClure cemented her place on the All-Courier team in a 4-3 postseason loss to Van Buren County. Lexi Jirak delivered the winning blow for the Warriors in the seventh inning of that game, but VBC would have had the lead by that point had it not been for McClure throwing out two different runners at the plate, keeping the Comets in the game.
Zoey Jones, Ottumwa, Jr.
Jones came back from an injury wrist suffered while catching Ashton Brown in Ottumwa’s second game of the season at West Des Moines Valley, collecting seven hits in 14 at-bats in wins over Marshalltown and Solon. Head coach Mandi Moore rewarded Jones by moving her up to second in the OHS batting order, where Jones stayed earning first-team all-conference honors while batting a team-best .477 with a .478 on-base percentage, a .615 slugging percentage, 31 total hits, 18 runs scored, 14 RBIs, three doubles and three triples.
Chelsey Huff, Van Buren County, Jr.
One of several All-Courier softball players to play various positions this season, Huff ultimately lands here after earning first-team all-state honors. Huff was one of four players to be unanimously selected to the Southeast Iowa Superconference’s first team in the south division after leading the Warriors with 30 hits, a .566 batting average and a .574 on-base percentage splitting her time playing first base and pitching, making nine starts and 10 appearances in the pitching circle with 53 strikeouts and a 2.62 ERA over 53.1 innings.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Bob Bradfield, Fairfield
The retirement of Frank Huston, who retired last season after guiding Ottumwa to state for the 28th time in program history, left Bradfield as the dean of area high school softball coaches. Bradfield follows Huston as the Courier head softball coach of the year after finishing his 41st season at the helm of the Trojans improving to 1,041-652 (.615) in his tenure while leading Fairfield to state for the seventh time. Like Huston, Bradfield coached his final game of this season on the Veterans Diamond at the Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge, falling 7-5 to Dallas Center-Grimes in the 4A state tournament semifinals. Unlike Huston, however, Bradfield did not announce his retirement after the game with sights set on making his eighth state tournament trip next season in what would be his 42nd season as Fairfield head softball coach.