ROCKTON - It's been about a month since Rock Valley College's softball team polished off its fifth straight NJCAA Division III National Championship so Hononegah grad Annaka Bartz has had a little time to let everything sink in.
For Bartz, that 6-2 title-clinching victory over Herkimer County Community College at the McQuillan Complex in Rochester, Minn., not only put a final punctuation mark on another fabulous season for the Golden Eagles, it put a final stamp on her two-year career there.
"It was different than last season for a number of reasons," said Bartz, who earned All-American honors along with teammates Breanna Crown, Madason Shaw and Courtney Fernette. "Last season we were undefeated in the tournament and we were up 20-0 after three innings in the title game. There was no question we were going to win. That feeling of winning was kind of dragged out because we had to play seven innings.
"This time we had a loss and it was all or nothing in that last game. We had to give it our all and we celebrated as a team afterward, but to be honest it doesn't really hit you until you get those championship rings later on. That's when you feel like we spent nine months building up to this and we did it."
The Golden Eagles won their first six games of postseason play before losing a 2-1 decision to Herkimer, which forced the winner-take-all game. RVC knocked off the Generals for the fourth time in the past five seasons to win the title.
RVC finished 52-9 and secured a NJCAA D-III record fifth national title, breaking a previous tie with the College of DuPage (1998, 2000-01, 2004). The Golden Eagles became the third NJCAA program to win five titles, joining Central Arizona (prior to NJCAA divisions) and Phoenix College (NJCAA D-II).
Bartz was selected an All-American at the utility position because she played shortstop, second base and the outfield for RVC. She was named the NJCAA D-III Championship Most Outstanding Offensive Player. For the season, she batted .437 with 25 doubles, six triples, 12 home runs, 53 RBI and 52 runs scored.
Here's our Q&A with local champ Bartz:
BDN: We understand Coach Monroe was particularly hard on the team early in the season when it didn't meet his expectations. Was he trying to tell the returnees not to rest on their laurels?
BARTZ: "He was trying to remind everybody that just because you have Rock Valley across your chest doesn't mean you own anything. Nothing is going to be given to you. Coach Monroe is hard on you because he wants you to understand how to push through difficult situations. Playing in a national tournament, we lost that game to Herkimer and it was moments like that we prepared for early in the season. OK, you lost the game, but can you push yourself to get through that? Can you be mentally tough to play another seven-inning game? Obviously all the work was worth it. We were mentally prepared for that."
BDN: You had committed to play for four-year Roosevelt University next season. Was it awkward playing for Rock Valley and yet also being a future member of another program?
BARTZ: "You're committed to one team, but you're also committed to finishing strong for the team you're on right now. You're excited about the adventure ahead, but you have a job to do first here. You want to give it your all for them and leave a legacy and you also want to prove to your next team they're making the right decision with you."
BDN: Well, you had a tremendous season proving you were a great all-around hitter capable of hitting for both power and average, not to mention play multiple positions.
BARTZ: "Thanks, but to be honest, there was a rough period right before regionals. I was in a major slump and I went to the cage and started hitting off the tee. I was so frustrated I just wanted to go out and hit a ball.
"I got a call from Coach (Darin) Monroe. He said I wasn't a tee hitter. I was a front-toss hitter and that if I ever needed him or a teammate or him to do the tossing just ask. The next day we stayed after practice and he tossed the ball to me and it helped. He knew that all I needed to do was to get me thinking in my head that I'm a good hitter and I can get my timing back as well as my confidence. During regionals I got back in the groove."
BDN: It sounds like you hold your coach in high regard.
BARTZ: "He coached me back in travel ball (with the Stateline Fury). He knows what it takes to get my confidence going. He's very good at reading players and knowing how to motivate each one. Everyone's personality is different. He is very good at what he does."
BDN: Obviously this season worked out great, but did you find it stressful with the streak and all?
BARTZ: "Sure, you feel like you have a target on your back. As freshmen, you experience what it's like to win. As sophomores you have had that high and you just don't want the low. You don't want to be the team to end the streak. You also want to build those freshmen up so they experience what it's like to have that win. Then when it's over it does feel a little more special because you know you're going out on top."
BDN: So how are you spending your summer?
BARTZ: "I'm being a nanny all summer and working out on my own. I didn't play summer ball last year either, but it's still weird. You go nine hard months of softball, softball, softball. It's weird not going somewhere with the Rock Valley gear on."
BDN: Pretty soon that will be Roosevelt University stuff. What kind of team are you joining?
BARTZ: "The head coach hasn't been there long. They've improved, but they're still losing too many close games. He thought his players were content with getting close and he's excited that his recruiting class and transfers will help those girls know how to finish off wins."