When Jeff Setz lost his battle with cancer in late August, not only did New Berlin Eisenhower lose a highly-successful football coach, educator and community member, but the Lions also lost the man that built their softball program into a one of the best in the state.
In 22 years leading the Lions, Setz won 410 games, qualified for state six times and won the 2008 state championship. He remained Eisenhower's softball coach through the 2016 season despite fighting cancer.
Eisenhower didn't look far to find his successor, tabbing assistant coach Kaelyn Hogan as head coach.
Hogan played at Greendale High School and at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. She was the head coach at Milwaukee Hamilton before joining Setz's staff after becoming a physical education teacher at Eisenhower. Joining her staff will be her father, Jeff Hogan, the Hall of Fame former baseball coach at Milwaukee Hamilton.
Eisenhower is coming off a season in which it went 20-6 overall and 12-4 in the Woodland West, finishing in second place behind Division 2 state champion New Berlin West. The Lions won 3-2 over Wisconsin Lutheran in their regional opener before dropping a 7-6 thriller to New Berlin West in the regional final.
The strength of the returners for the Lions is in the circle as both pitchers from last season are back as seniors.
Senior Anna Lang earned first-team All-Woodland West honors in 2016 after going 11-5 with a 4.41 ERA in 96 innings, while senior McKenna Hietpas went 8-1 with a 3.46 ERA in 54⅔ innings.
Eisenhower will be tasked with replacing its top three hitters from a year ago, including a pair of Now Newspapers All-Suburban and first-team All-Woodland West selections in catcher Ali Nowak and outfielder Riley Rossbach.
Nowak hit .514 with 15 doubles, three home runs and 33 RBI, and Rossbach posted a .382 batting average with six doubles, three triples, seven home runs and 33 RBIs. The Lions will also need to fill the void left by the graduation of second-team All-Woodland West infielder Andrea Leder, who hit .392 with six doubles and 20 RBIs.
Junior outfielder Megan Loewus returns after hitting .359 to earn second-team All-Woodland West. Honorable mention All-Woodland West infielder Erica Buechel is back after hitting .338 with 22 RBIs and eight stolen bases.
Hogan feels sophomore infielder Molly Beacom, sophomore catcher Kelly Beres, sophomore infielder Erin Carey and sophomore pitcher Taylor Prei are newcomers capable of contributing on varsity this season.
"We have good team chemistry, excellent work ethic, coachable athletes and positive attitudes," Hogan said. "We need to improve our team defense, making routine plays during team situations."
The Lions began their season with a 15-4 rout of Pewaukee on March 23 in a game that was supposed to be played at Eisenhower but was moved to Pewaukee due to poor field conditions.
Eisenhower scored three times in the first inning and twice more in the second to go up 5-0.
Beacom connected for an RBI single before the Lions scored twice more on passed balls in the first inning. Eisenhower collected a pair of runs in the second on an RBI double by Buechel and a run-scoring single by Beacom.
Emily Barnes played two with a double, and Gabby Makinski and Carey hit RBI singles in a five-run fourth inning that blew the game open at 10-0. The Lions capped their scoring with Barnes scoring on an error and Carey scoring on a groundout by Lang in the sixth and Hietpas hitting a three-run triple in the seventh.
Lang allowed just two earned runs with no walks and eight strikeouts to pick up the victory.
Beacom finished 4-for-4 with two RBIs; Hietpas was 2-for-5 with a triple and four RBIs; and Buechel was 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI.