After steadily improving to back-to-back 10-win seasons, this was the year the Cattaraugus-Little Valley softball team built for with its strong senior class.

For coach Heather Kagelmacher, the first — and ultimately, only — week of practice this spring felt different with this group.

“The beginning of every year, I always tell them that it's all about training your bodies to be able to do things naturally, so that it's all muscle memory,” Kagelmacher said. “And since I've had them — every single one of those kids has been in my program since at least ninth grade, some of them eighth grade — they're so used to what is expected of them, the first week of practice we didn't have to break down a whole lot of stuff.

"We went outside every single day the first week of practice and we were able to start already talking about things we don't get to talk about until the day before a game, because (normally) we can't get outside. So it was all the stuff that I didn't have to explain to them just because it's a natural thing for them at this point.”

A quiet confidence accompanied that brief tune-up for a season that never started at C-LV.

“Gearing up it was more that we all knew silently, we never really talked about it that much, that we should have had a really good season,” Kagelmacher said. “I think they all knew that in the back of their minds so they were gearing up for that too.”

OF COURSE, like high schoolers around the country, C-LV’s eight softball seniors — Lexi Wulf, Emma Rupp, Emily Horth, Abby Minnekine, Maddie Jones, Becca Ulinger, Sam Benzel and Sydney Preston — didn’t get the send-off they deserved. Last Wednesday, May 20, marked what would have been Senior Night for the Timberwolves, at home against North Collins.

Wednesday afternoon, Kagelmacher published a Facebook post acknowledging each girl’s contributions to the team with photos and a heartfelt message to each one. Kagelmacher said while the season is over, she hopes the group can eventually get together for a team photo.

“It was hard. I think they were all gearing up for it already,” Kagelmacher said of the canceled season. “I kind of wanted to avoid the group text message type thing, because I knew they were all dealing with that anyway. I've reached out to them individually about different things, but I'm trying not to talk to them as much about it because I know it's pretty rough.”

AT SMALL schools like C-LV, big classes in a certain sport don’t come along every year for coaches. Kagelmacher said only three returning players for 2021 will have varsity experience (from 2019).

The group of eight seniors included four who lettered in softball since their freshman year: Wulf, Horth, Rupp and Minnekine. Each brought a different, needed element to the mix.

“They're such good kids,” Kagelmacher said. “They're a mixture. Like you have Lexi Wulf, who's like an extremely natural, core softball talent; Emma Rupp, same thing. You have Abby Minnekine and Maddie Jones, who are the most positive people on the planet. I can name something good about every single one of them that they bring to the team ... it's tough.”

They also brought a mix of leadership styles.

“Lexi (Wulf) led on the field with her talent and her constant head in the game and then you have the silent leaders that just try to motivate everybody,” Kagelmacher said. “She could anticipate everything, like any type of play, she knew what was coming. She was always thinking ahead and just being the one on the field that always knew what to do in every situation.

"Then you have Abby and Maddie and Sam, so many of them, that they're just positive, they try to motivate after a bad play, they try to pick them up. If they make a great play they get super-excited for them, just things like that, you have so many types.”