CEDAR RAPIDS — Caitlin Kray’s countdown has reached zero.
“I’ve been counting down the days,” said the all-state outfielder from Cedar Rapids Xavier. “I’m really excited to get going again.”
Prep softball teams across Iowa opened practice Monday. For Xavier Coach Brian Erbe, it was a welcome distraction for a few hours.
Erbe’s son-in-law is Tim Davis, the Cedar Rapids police officer who was seriously injured while on the job in late March. Davis also has served as a volunteer assistant to Erbe, specializing in strength and conditioning.
Davis has returned home after more than a month in the hospital.
“It’s been a tough five or six weeks,” Erbe said. “If you’d have asked me four weeks ago (if I would be ready), I wouldn’t have known. Now I do. I’m ready. I still have the fire. I’m ready to go.”
Judging by Erbe’s comments to his team at the outset of Monday’s practice, it’s impossible to disagree.
“This isn’t going to be what you’re used to, an hour or an hour and a half. We’re going to go to 7, 7:30 or 8 o’clock tonight.”
“One thing you have to understand, I am very, very, very competitive. Sometimes, I yell. When I do, don’t take it personally.”
“If you don’t win the majority of the battles, you’re not going to win the war.”
“We will have fun. Winning is fun. Losing is for people at other schools. Not at Xavier.”
Fifty-two players, in grades 8 through 12, signed up for softball at Xavier, and 44 of them jammed into Bob Erusha Field for practice Monday. All of them wore stickers on their T-shirts that bore numbers for which Erbe to identify the promising newcomers.
Fundamentals were the heart of the workout. Lots of ground balls. Fly balls.
“We’re at the very, very basics of the game,” Erbe said. “I want to see what the talent level is for the younger kids.”
Once a softball doormat, Xavier has become an elite program under Erbe’s watch. It’s a Class 4A program now, and the Saints are ready for the promotion. Eight full-time starters return from last year’s team.
“I don’t see any major difference,” Kray said. “It’s a new challenge for us to get better.
“The main goal still is to get to state and do well there.”
This is Kray’s fifth season as a varsity player for Erbe.
“Every day is a new adventure,” she said.
The Saints open the season May 26 at home against Cedar Rapids Prairie.