By CONOR NICHOLL
Ross Bruggeman grew up in Sabetha, played football for longtime Bluejay coach Garrett Michael and graduated in 2009. A perennial power, Sabetha won back-to-back football championships in ’17 and ’18. Michael earned Sports In Kansas all-classes coach of the year in ’18.
Michael is good friends with Tom Matukewicz, a Fort Hays graduate who served as a defensive coach at Southern Illinois for Jerry Kill from 2001-07. Kill is well-known for stints at Pittsburg State, Emporia State and the Minnesota head coach from ’11-15. Kill was the Southern Illinois head coach from ’01-07 and made the playoffs five times. He is currently the head football coach at New Mexico State.
Sabetha went to a Southern Illinois football camp one summer. Bruggeman and his players received T-shirts with the saying “Brick by brick.” Bruggeman already knew he wanted to be a teacher and coach.
“That was a really cool motto,” Bruggeman told SIK in April. “That idea to me of not worrying about the end results, but just constantly focusing on the process of getting better every day really struck me. And I kind of made that decision as a sophomore in high school that when I have a program that I am in charge of, we are going to use ‘brick and brick.’”
Bruggeman became the Kingman head softball coach six years ago.
Kingman softball started in 2007 with one victory. In its first decade, the Eagles finished a cumulative 48-160 with zero winning seasons. Bruggeman gave credit to those early teams to building the program and setting the foundation.
Kingman broke through with a 17-5 mark in 2017. Since then, the Eagles are 89-22, including two state appearances. Kingman won its first CPL crown in ’19. This year, Kingman stands at 18-2 and has the best regular season in school annals.
The “brick by brick” mantra is ubiquitous for Kingman softball.
“The first couple of years, the girls knew what it was about, but at this point, it’s actually kind of the community knows what it’s about,” Bruggeman said. “…Extremely proud of how it’s kind of taken through Kingman and how our girls, I think they really do love that saying.”
Kingman has the words on its twitter bio and web site. The Eagles always break down to “brick by brick.” Kingman has a brick stack in the dugout. It’s on all the gear. When a parent posts on social media, they have used the line. Bruggeman has different colored bricks for different occasions.
The slogan helped Kingman to a Central Plains League championship Monday. Kingman, paced by seniors Alex Schreiner and Aly Hageman and a strong supporting cast, swept defending 3A champion Cheney, 5-1 and 8-5.
“Kind of cool and something we do to remind ourselves of all the hard work we have put in throughout the season,” Bruggeman said. “I am not going to take any credit. We have had phenomenal kids, we have had phenomenal softball players as my time as a head coach, and they have won a lot of games.”
Cheney had won 27 straight contests before a 9-7 loss to Mulvane on Saturday. Monday marked the first time Cheney had been swept in several years. The Cardinals have made four straight state tournaments. Kingman, who co-ops with Norwich for softball, will host the Class 3A Kingman regional next week. Cheney (17-3) and longtime power Haven (14-4) are in the regional, too.
Before Saturday, Cheney had not lost since a 2-0 defeat on April 22, 2021 to Belle Plaine.
This could be one of the great seasons in a KSHSAA sport in Kingman girls’ history. Kingman volleyball has never made the state tournament, per KSHSAA archives. Girls’ basketball took second in 4A in 1983. The lone girls’ state championship in Kingman history is a 4-3-2-1A golf title in 1993.
“The timing of my taking over as the head coach and having this really great record has a lot to do with the talent,” Bruggeman said. “And it has a lot to do with our kids and how hard they work and how much they love the game of softball. It has a lot to do with how hard our kids work in the weight room.”
Kingman and Cheney were one of several key matchups across Monday. The day was also highlighted by the rescheduled rematch between undefeated 3A Rossville versus undefeated 4A Wamego, the defending state champs. Wamego lost for the first time in more than a calendar year.
Last season, Wamego fell to Rossville, 9-3 and 13-10. This time, Rossville won 5-2 in the first game, and Wamego earned a 5-0 victory in the second contest. In the victory, Wamego elite freshman Peyton Hardenburger continued her remarkable season. She struck out 13 batters and permitted two hits. Hardenburger has yet to allow an earned run this season. Wamego is 17-1, Rossville is 15-1, per KSHSAA results.
As well, Silver Lake faced Oskaloosa, a perennial power going through a rare down season. SL defeated Oskaloosa, 15-0 and 15-0. In one of the victories, Taryn Burkhardt, who recently signed with Johnson County CC softball, went 3 of 4 and drove in four runs. Star pitcher Avery Wende went four innings with one hit allowed. Three SL players hit homers. Silver Lake is 10-6 with losses to Wamego, Rossville and 5A Basehor-Linwood.
Council Grove softball finished the regular season 18-2 with a sweep of Northern Heights and clinched the Flint Hills League title.
In a matchup of quality 3A GWAC schools, Holcomb beat Goodland, 13-1 and 11-0. In 2-1A play, Bucklin defeated Sylvan-Lucas, 11-3 and 15-3. Holcomb stands at 16-2 and has won 14 straight. Holcomb will finish the regular season versus Colby on Tuesday. Holcomb has eight straight double-digit wins. Goodland is 9-7. Holcomb has standout pitcher Korryn Johnson, among other standouts.
Mulvane continued its fine play and big turnaround with a 16-0 and 13-1 win versus Buhler. Mulvane is 9-7 and has a plus-five win improvement from last spring.
In the Kansas City area, Blue Valley Southwest beat Shawnee Heights, 7-5 and 6-2. BVSW is 14-2 and SH stands at 11-5.
In a wild Topeka area game, Washburn Rural beat Topeka Seaman, 8-6. Rural is seeded first in 6A. WR’s Campbell Bagshaw has signed with Kansas softball. The game was tied at six after 15 innings before Bagshaw delivered a two-run double.
Bruggeman has a friend who used to work for a landscape company in Wichita. Around four or five years ago, Bruggeman wanted to have bricks in the dugout. His friend gave Bruggeman a deal. Bruggeman painted them. He has around 70 to 80 bricks in his garage and stacked up in the grandstand at the ballpark. Bruggeman estimated eight to 10 hours of work the first time he painted the bricks. Kingman re-uses the bricks each year.
“I am kind of a perfectionist,” he said. “I wanted the numbers in the very middle of the brick, so I measured how much the bricks were and made a small mark, so I knew, and then I had to get cardboard out and tape off the other sides so I didn’t get overspray.”
Bruggeman counts backward during the season. The first day of practice is Day 50. Day Zero is the state tournament. Each time Kingman has a good practice, the girls earn a brick. The first day of practice is Brick 50, and Kingman puts Brick 50 in the dugout.
The seniors decorate Brick Zero. After the season, the senior Brick Zero goes in Bruggeman’s classroom. This year, it’s in the truck. It goes on the road, to games, in the dugout, team meetings, a constant reminder of what the goal is at season’s end.
“We take it with us everywhere,” Bruggeman said.
Kingman gets bricks for victories. Those are white bricks with red Ws on them. Kingman stacks those bricks in the dugout. After an 8-2 start, Kingman had nearly 30 practice bricks and eight W bricks in the dugout.
Black bricks represent regional victories. Kingman is 0-2 in all-time state tournament games. The Eagles have silver bricks for state tournament wins.
“A gold brick if we ever win a state title,” he said.
Kingman talks about playing its best softball at the end of the season; Bruggeman said the team “doesn’t worry about results a whole lot.” In his six seasons as head coach with the program, Bruggeman has looked to play “really good teams.” Kingman opened with 17-7 and 10-5 victories against rival Pratt. On April 7, Kingman swept Belle Plaine, a returning state qualifier – and Cheney’s last loss.
The Eagles’ only losses have come against Mulvane in an 8-1 defeat on March 29 and an 8-6 loss on April 11. Afterward, Kingman had a little heart-to-heart talk.
“If we want to reach our goals and be as good as we can be, we really have got to lock in defensively,” Bruggeman said. “And make the plays that we have got to make, and then I think it clicked against Dodge City.”
Kingman was able to schedule 6A Dodge City on April 19 and won 3-1 and 9-5. Eight blowout wins followed before the Monday matchups with Cheney. Those marked the first matchups against Dodge City in at least 11 seasons.
“We are really a process-based program, and we worry about getting better every day,” he said. “And that’s something that we have developed over the last six years, and the girls just have bought in so well to it. They have bought in so well to that mindset of just working hard every single day, focusing on the goals at the end of the season, improving every single day. They make my job pretty easy, so that’s what I’ve been most happy with so far this season is just all of the girls one through 18 constantly just worrying about getting better each day and not really worrying about results.”
Early on, Bruggeman talked about improving on defense. Against Dodge City, Kingman turned a highly rare triple play. DC is 8-9 this season. Bruggeman, who also served a short stint as an assistant, said it marked the first triple play he’d recalled seeing.
“The girls played so well,” he said. “That was maybe the best we played defensively in a few years. We hit the ball well, we pitched well. Dodge is a quality opponent.”
Kingman has several well-known seniors, notably Schreiner and Hageman. Schreiner, the team’s ace, is headed to Newman softball. Last year, she hit a homer that broke a scoreboard. The 5-foot-3 Hageman starts at shortstop.
Hageman is one of many Eagles that have benefited from the weight room under coach Dustin Beam, Kingman’s well-known defensive coordinator. This fall, Kingman football went to the state semifinals, its best finish since 1972. Beam was the 2A assistant coach of the year by the Kansas Football Coaches Association.
“He is the man in the weight room,” Bruggeman said.
Hageman is a state powerlifting champion with a 23-inch vertical jump, a 71 mile per hour overhand throw and 4.5 pro agility. She hit .402 with an .806 slugging, 17 steals and just two strikeouts last spring. Hageman is headed to Butler County softball. Kingman boys were third at 2A state powerlifting this spring, while the Eagle girls easily cruised to the title. In the pound-for-pound rankings, Hageman ranked third out of more than 100 lifters. Hageman lives in Willowdale, a town of less than 300 people 19 miles southwest of Kingman.
Versus Dodge, Hageman, a returning second team all-state player, had a backhand play where she flipped to third base.
“An absolutely exceptional athlete who is phenomenal with her hands, who catches stuff that she has no business getting to,” Bruggeman said.
Hageman made the first out against Dodge City that started the triple play. Hageman made a great over-the-shoulder catch, and then two throws delivered the triple play.
“I didn’t think she had a shot to get to the ball,” Bruggeman said. “If I would have been Dodge City’s runners as well, I would have thought that was dropping in the outfield pretty safely.”
The other seniors are left fielder Kayla Belt, catcher Megan Hensley, and third baseman Emma Parsons.
Through 18 games, Schreiner carried a .534 average with 10 doubles, three triples and 27 RBI. Hageman was at .459 with eight extra-base hits. Hensley was batting .455, Parsons .351 and Belt .300. Kingman was batting .427 as a team.
“Our five seniors are absolutely our team leaders,” he said. “They are absolutely kind of what we have built around, and they do everything the right way, but those two juniors and those two sophomores have also really filled roles.”
Bruggeman labeled the juniors “kind of our unsung heroes,” especially Marley Munz and Peyton Graber. Bruggeman said the pair were probably varsity level players as sophomores, but Kingman had three quality senior players in front of them. Munz and Graber had to wait their turn. Munz mainly plays second base, along with some outfield. Graber has played first base all season. They have been two of Kingman’s better hitters. Munz has a .480 average with three homers.
Plus, sophomore center fielder Laney Wood was a first team all-league player last season in the outfield. Wood has batted in the No. 2 hole. This season, Wood has been the team’s second-best hitter with a .482 average.
“Her softball IQ is extremely high,” Bruggeman said.
Sophomore Jadyn Belt is the No. 2 pitcher and starts in right field in game one. Belt has made substantial strides; Bruggeman called her “exceptional” both at the plate and in the circle. Belt showed strong power and carries a .400 average. Belt’s sister was Kingman’s ace last season. Jadyn hadn’t pitched in several years. She threw less than 10 innings in 2021 and struggled with accuracy. This spring, Belt has had a significant uptick in velocity with improved accuracy and confidence.
In the team’s first 100 innings, the staff had a 2.31 ERA. Schreiner had worked 58.1 innings with 37 strikeouts against 16 walks and a 1.92 ERA. Belt was 8-0 with a 2.93 ERA and 25 strikeouts against 11 walks in 40.2 innings.
“She worked her tail off in the offseason,” Bruggeman said of Belt. “With pitching lessons, with pitching at home, she worked really, really hard to get where she is right now, and it’s exciting.”