It’s been a while since we’ve been there, long before any of the girls on the 2021 Anamosa softball roster were even born, but Anamosa does indeed have a state softball history.
The trip the Raiders are making Monday, July 19, is actually the third state tournament appearance the Anamosa program is making in Fort Dodge, and first in 25 years since the 1996 team, widely considered the greatest in school history, reached the class 2A state championship game.
While the 1996 team gets all the accolades, and often times rightly so, Anamosa made their first-ever state appearance in 1995, setting the ’96 team up for their incredible run that saw the Raiders ranked second in the state the entire summer and faced top-ranked Carlisle in the title contest.
But ’95 was the groundbreaking season for the Anamosa program, with an extremely young team that also had some key experience pieces mixed in.
A lot of the names from the ’95 state team were there again in ’96. Cara Graver, Kim Delagardelle, Andrea Eilertson, Mary Ann Frasher, Rachael Bauer, Amy Weiler, Karen Platner, Christy Wollum and Steph Engelbart were all underclassmen led by senior shortstop Amy Wilken as well as an all-senior outfield in Rachel Robertson, Andrea Delagardelle and Tammy Helle.
That ’95 team, ranked 17th in class 2A entering the state tournament, defeated 10th-ranked Webster City 1-0 in the opening round before being handed a 5-3 loss against eventual state champion Clarke in the semi-finals.
In the consolation round Anamosa closed their campaign with a 4-1, eight-inning loss against Independence to finish fourth overall at the tournament, wrapping a phenomenal 37-13 summer under head coach Chuck Smith.
At a community celebration following the state tournament, Smith announced to the packed crowd “as a coach I’ve waited 22 years to make it to the state tournament, and we’d like to do it again next year.
“We appreciated everything the community did and the pep rally the booster club had for us. It was a pretty positive thing for the team and the community.”
Both of the Delagardelle sisters were named to the ’95 state All-Tournament team culminating a summer that saw the Raiders not only win a Big Bend Conference championship, but Big Bend tournament title as well.
Anamosa’s journey to state included playoff wins over Marion, Mount Vernon, Iowa Falls and lastly a thrilling 2-1 upset triumph over eighth-ranked Benton Community in the regional championship game in Van Horne.
“Our goal from the beginning of the season was to earn a trip to Fort Dodge,” Smith said after the game. “We want to go there and represent our school, the girls’ parents and our community by playing the type of softball that got us there.”
I helped then sports editor Dan Digmann cover the ’95 state tournament for the Journal-Eureka, as one of my first assignments for the paper, and you could see it even then that amazingly, better days were still ahead for the program.
The ’96 team was pretty much unstoppable from the season’s start, rolling to Big Bend league and tournament championships and entered the class 2A playoffs as the second-ranked team in the state with a mere four losses (all to ranked teams) on their resume.
Anamosa rolled to playoff victories over Mount Vernon (5-0), Cascade (7-0), Cedar Rapids Regis (5-2) and Independence (1-0) setting the Raiders up for a regional championship date with Union on the Knights’ own home field in LaPorte City.
It would be a game everyone in attendance will never forget.
Locked in a 1-1 tie going into the bottom of the 12th inning, pinch-runner Kelly Wacker, a name that will forever live in Anamosa softball lore, scored the game-winning run sending the Raiders back to the state tournament.
Wacker pinch-ran for Bauer, who delivered a lead-off single, and came in to score when Kim Delagardelle lifted a sacrifice fly to medium centerfield.
But the jubilation would have to wait several heart stopping seconds however, as the umpire originally called Wacker out, but as the softball rolled out of the mitt of the Union catcher, the ump reversed his call sending Anamosa back to Fort Dodge with the 2-1 victory.
The Raiders entered the state tournament as the No. 2 seed and easily took care of business against Creston (8-2) in the opener and Davenport Assumption (6-0) in the semi-final.
The 2A state championship game wouldn’t go quite the way Raider fans had hoped it would though, dropping a tough 7-0 final against top-ranked Carlisle, ending a record-setting 47-5 summer.
Some new names helped Anamosa during their ’96 journey, as Rose Galer, Shelly Sleep, Jessica Price and Colleen Helle were key additions to the roster with Galer earning All-Tournament team honors with Graver and Kim Delagardelle.
Eilertson, just a sophomore back in ’96, would go on to play D-I softball with the University of Kentucky while Graver had one of the most memorable pitching performances in school history going 42-4 overall with 288.2 innings pitched and struck out 319 batters while issuing a mere 17 walks with a 0.53 earned run average.
It was a pair of summers anyone in or around the program will never forget. I know I haven’t, but these current Raiders are sure brining back a lot of amazing memories, and creating a lot of new ones too.