By ISAAC DEER
ROSSVILLE -- Rossville juniors Katie Spielman and Hailey Horton are first-year members of the state-bound softball team in 2023, and despite the battery tandem being brand new to the team this season, they've been key contributors to the Bulldawgs' success.
Rossville (17-4) knocked off top-seeded Silver Lake, 4-1, in last Thursday's regional championship game to earn a berth in the Class 3A state tournament at Manhattan.
The win over its deeply rooted rival meant the world to the Rossville team.
The Bulldawgs have had their fair share of contributors pitch into their second straight regional championship win. Most of Rossville's crew has played with each other on the field and have been friends off the field since they could start playing sports.
Rossville pitcher Spielman and catcher Horton took different paths to contributing to the Bulldawgs' highly-successful 2023 campaign.
Spielman is originally from Clay Center, while Horton moved from right next door at Silver Lake to start the 2022-2023 school year. Spielman and Horton are three-sport athletes who had time to acclimate to their new homes before the softball season.
"The move wasn't hard," Horton said. "But getting to know everyone at (Rossville) was probably the hardest part. I feel like I clicked pretty quickly with most people since I just moved from the town over. I already knew most of the people. So I'd say it was easy to click with everyone."
"I'd say my situation was a bit different with me living an hour and a half away," Spielman said. "It was a lot different having to move here and get to know the community and everyone. Over the summer, it was hard. But once we started school and playing sports together, it got better."
The hospitality from small-town Rossville made transitioning to new situations much easier for the juniors.
Rossville welcomed Spielman and Horton with open arms, making work in the classroom and on the field much more straightforward.
"I've always lived in a small town, so I guess the best part of it is knowing everyone in the community," Horton said. "You know everyone that you go to school with and everyone in the town. Everyone in the town supports you no matter what."
"I agree with Hailey, and one of the things for me is that everyone has your back," Spielman said. "When you fall, they are there to pick you up. They are always there for you when you need them."
Seeking out the essential chemistry within a team was relatively easy to find for either Spielman or Horton. The same familiar faces they see in the fall are those they know with them in the winter and the spring.
"It makes it a lot easier to know how to connect on the court or on the field," Spielman said. "Once you get to know how another person plays a sport, factors they can contribute and factors you can contribute to the team, it's easier."
"I would agree that it makes our bond stronger," Horton said. "We play with each other in most of the sports. So we get to know each other really well through those sports connections."
Something familiar for Spielman and Horton is the work that comes with the sport of softball. Both have played the sport since they were signed up to play T-ball as young kids. The love of the game has grown stronger over the years.
But without the support of family and friends, they admitted that they wouldn't be where they are today without that love and assistance. With the support of family and friends, they help keep Spielman and Horton going when the grind of a student-athlete becomes difficult at times.
That inspiration will help them as they head to Manhattan this week for the 3A state tournament.
Spielman has made the state tournament every year in high school. Spielman was on the team that made it to the 4A tournament during her freshman and sophomore years with Clay Center.
"I went (to state) my freshman and sophomore year, and the feeling is a lot different than any other game," Spielman said." "It's really exhilarating."
Horton has been at that level before. As a freshman at Silver Lake, Horton was a part of the team that made it all the way to the state championship game before taking a 1-0 loss to Cheney.
"I'm pretty excited for the state tournament," Horton said. "I went to the state tournament my freshman year, and I just remember that feeling of being so excited to get out there. I'm just ready for that feeling again. It's fun when the whole community surrounds you while you're playing."
Rossville will open 3A state tournament play against Columbus (21-2) at Manhattan's Twin Oaks Complex on Thursday at 7 p.m.