LORETTO - It's one of the worst things a player can hear after a season-ending loss.
There's always next year.
But for the Central Mountain Lady Wildcats' softball team, this is far more than just an empty comforting cliche.
The Lady Wildcats fell 6-1 against Canon-Mac in a game that took two days to complete due to inclement weather. One step away from the state semifinals, this wasn't the way the Lady 'Cats envisioned their season coming to an end.
Everybody on the team felt like they had a lot more to give.
Thankfully, mostly everybody on the team will be returning next year.
With all but two graduating seniors - Ciarra Peters and Ashley Seyler returning next season, head coach Dave Peters will have a team loaded with experienced seniors.
"Next year, I want to see us improve our consistency from game to game. Early on in this season, we weren't scoring a lot of runs so we have to see improvement and more consistency with our bats next year," coach Peters said. "I told the kids for next year, we can't live on our past accomplishments. We have to continue to work hard and improve, but we do have a great core of players returning. It's exciting to think about how good they can be next season."
One player who is sure to be one of the anchors of leadership for next season is Brittany Koch. The junior knows what the expectations are but she also knows the Lady Wildcats will not only have the experience but also the personnel to improve upon this season.
"We want to go farther than we did this year next year. We have the talent to do it, we just have to have the motivation and everybody has to be in it together," Koch said.
So, what exactly are the expectations for next season?
Repeat as district champs?
Or how about become state champions?
Answer, all the above.
"If the girls aren't expecting to do that then they're selling themselves short," Dave Peters said. "We certainly have the abilities and the talent. I hope the girls are setting their hopes that high. We made a good run this year and took advantage of some opportunities but we hope to continue to get better next season."
The potentially-bright future for the Lady Wildcats is fun to think about but what's going on in the present shouldn't be taken for granted. This team exceeded a lot of people's expectation this season, flourishing in an underdog role and this point is certainly not lost on their head coach.
"Never in the history of our program have we made it this far in the state tournament and certainly winning the district championship are things that I've very proud the team accomplished this year," Dave Peters said. "We were a team that was even questionable to get in the district tournament, and then to not only win the district title but to continue that momentum winning a game in the state tournament, is something special. So, as a coach, those are great accomplishments for this team."
It's always hard for an athlete to look fondly upon a season after recently feeling the sting of defeat, but Koch has noticed growth in herself and the team throughout the season.
"The season started off rough but we were able to improve getting into districts then winning districts. We made it very far compared to some of the other sports at our school so we did well," Koch said. "I was able to increase my fielding this season, and now I have better range. I wish my hitting could have been better but when it comes it comes and I know I can do better."
The championship season Central Mountain put together will always be remembered and having it end in a loss is always tough, especially when you're only three wins away from capturing a state championship.
But there is, truly, always next year.