Hellenbrand steps down as softball coach

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton girls softball coach Cherie Hellenbrand, who led the Cardinals to the 2015 Big Eight Conference title, recently resigned./File photo

Middleton’s girls softball team was down to its last at-bat of the 2015 season.

As Cardinals’ head coach Cherie Hellenbrand watched the final out in a sectional semifinal loss to DeForest, she had one overriding thought.

“It was a pop-up, and as the ball was up in the air, I was thinking, ‘This will be my last time standing on third base,’ ” said Hellenbrand, who also teaches Business at MHS. “I love coaching, but I just didn’t think I could keep making it work.”

So last week, Hellenbrand informed Middleton athletic director Bob Joers she won’t be back for the 2016 season. Hellenbrand broke the news to her team earlier this week.

The ultra-successful, competitive and driven Hellenbrand spent the last four months trying to figure out a way to balance family and coaching. But when Hellenbrand realized that was an impossibility, she announced her resignation.

To say there was remorse throughout the program would be a substantial understatement.

“She was by far my favorite coach I’ve ever had,” Middleton junior Rachel Everson said. “I've never had a coach that taught us how to be competitive and taught us the enjoyment of winning.

“Not only has she helped us on the field, she always has her door open at our school and many of us go to her for problems not even related to softball. I am so fortunate that I was able to establish a very close relationship with her and I go to her for everything.”

Katie Fermanich and Morgan Schmitt were both standouts on Middleton’s 2015 Big Eight Conference championship team. Both players were surprised — and saddened ­— to hear Hellenbrand wouldn’t be back in 2016.

“Coach Hellenbrand may have only coached my grade for two years, but each season was a blessing,” Fermanich said. “She was a coach that knew what we had to do to get the win and pushed us to be our best each day.

“One of my favorite characteristics of Coach Hellenbrand is her competitive drive which would also rub off onto us as players to keep us motivated. However my top pick of her traits is how well she could relate to us. She is a wonderful mentor for all aspects of life, not just on the dirt. She will be dearly missed by the program and her successor has some big shoes to fill.”

Schmitt agreed.

“Coach knew when to flip the switch, which transferred over to teaching us to know when to flip the switch,” Schmitt said. “We had tough practices don’t get me wrong, but there was a reason.

“Coach wasn’t there to waste her time. She was truly there for the right reasons, to coach a group of girls who had the same passion as her. She will certainly will be missed.”

Hellenbrand was a former standout at Middleton, then coached the Cardinals from 2006-’10. In that time, Hellenbrand led the Cardinals to the 2008 state tournament, which marked the first time Middleton reached state in 15 years.

Hellenbrand stepped away after the 2010 campaign when her husband, Dudley, had a health scare. But when the program fell on hard times between 2011-’13, many in the community put a full court press on Hellenbrand to return.

After agreeing to come back, Hellenbrand got the program back on track over the last two years.

Middleton finished third in the Big Eight in 2014, went 17-8 overall, and lost a controversial sectional semifinal game to Madison La Follette. Last year, the Cardinals tied Verona for the conference championship, went 17-6 overall and again reached the sectional semifinals.

With a terrific group expected back next spring, Hellenbrand seemingly had Middleton positioned for even bigger and better.

“I told the girls we’re in really good shape,” Hellenbrand said. “Seeing the talent coming up, No. 1, they’re talented. And No. 2, their attitude is great. And I think they understand what it takes. I told them there’s no reason they shouldn’t win another conference title.”

Hellenbrand would have loved to continue leading the program. But her two children are both in activities that conflict with softball. And at the end of the day, family will always come first for Hellenbrand.

Hellenbrand left the door open for a return down the road. But for now, the balancing act was simply too much.

“I just can’t fully commit to being the best coach I can be,” Hellenbrand said. “I’ll miss the kids, the relationships I’ve had with the athletes, seeing them go through great times and bad times. I truly enjoyed and loved the players.”

The feeling was certainly mutual.

“We became a winning team because of her,” Everson said. “She always says that it’s not her, it’s us. But none of us would have worked as hard if it wasn’t for her. We spent hours and hours on softball every day and that's why we won. We will really miss her and so will the Middleton softball program.”

Schmitt felt the same way.

“The two years I was on Coach Hellenbrand’s team were two years I will remember for the rest of my life,” Schmitt said. “This past year was one of the most memorable years in my softball career. One thing I think Coach Hellenbrand stressed this past spring was working to achieve team goals while having fun.

“She was always there to make us girls not only better players, but also better teenage high school girls. Coach Hellenbrand was not just a coach to us, and that is why I think she will be missed.”

 

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