Great Bend centerfielder DeShawnna Bryant and pitcher/shortstop Paige Thexton earned first-team All-Western Athletic Conference softball honors. Great Bend (11-11, 6-6 WAC) upset WAC champion Hays High 10-5 in postseason play when Bryant drove home a school record seven runs, including a bases-loaded double. Thexton delivered defense at shortstop, a spark from the leadoff spot and quality pitching (3-5).
Goddard Eisenhower downed the Panthers 6-2 in the regional championship game. The Panthers return three pitchers and all nine starters next season.
Great Bend Panther freshman pitcher Alyssa McCauley (5-2) and right fielder Katherine Mazouch earned second-team All-WAC honors.
WAC PLAYER OF YEAR
Garden City pitcher Brie Manwarren (14-3, 199 strikeouts/ 106.2 innings) with a .507 batting average was selected as WAC Player of the Year. Manwarren’s career record was 45-10.
After missing her freshman season in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brie Manwarren made an immediate impact on the Western Athletic Conference softball scene.
Fast forward to the 2023 season and in her senior campaign, Manwarren was again the dominant pitching and batting force in the WAC. Her 14-3 won-loss record with 199 strikeouts in 106.2 innings combined with a career-high .507 batting average put her in elite company as she was voted by the conference’s coaches as the Player of the Year for the third consecutive season.
Manwarren put together impressive numbers of 16-3 and 15-4 her first two years to help the Buffs capture two WAC titles.
“When I learned about being voted Player of the Year and knowing that we didn’t win WAC, it felt really nice,” Manwarren said in a recent interview. “It means a lot to earn the respect of all the coaches, especially when not winning the league. You have to earn that respect.”
Manwarren saved her best for her final season in almost every pitching and hitting category.
She pitched fewer innings thanks in part to sophomore Kyleigh Whitehurst picking up three wins. Her 199 strikeouts combined with her sophomore (185) and junior (212) seasons left her with 596 career whiffs, placing her third on the GCHS all-time list for strikeouts. Only former all-staters Katie Ford and Abbie Dart rank ahead of her with 678 and 608, respectively, but those came in four seasons.
Hitters managed to average just .178 against Manwarren this year and her control improved to the extent where she walked just 18 batters and had an earned-run-average of 1.52. Another impressive pitching stat was the fact she never hit a batter in her 17 starts. Batters managed only a .190 average against her for three seasons.
“My control got better with fewer walks and hit batters,” Manwarren said in assessing her improvement from sophomore to junior to senior campaigns. “This past offseason I worked really hard to clean up my pitches. I think one of my strengths was in the deception of my pitches and I worked very hard on the mental side.”
Manwarren credited her head coach, Trina Mai, for much of her success and improvement through her three years of playing for the Buffs.
“We worked hard on what pitches to throw and when and the more we worked, the more confident I got and then the more control I had,” Manwarren said.
There is more to Manwarren’s softball success than just pitching as she compiled a career-best .507 batting average in 2023 with 34 hits, 35 runs-batted-in and 22 runs scored in the 20 games. She only had three strikeouts in 67 at-bats. Of her 34 hits, 17 went for extra bases, reflecting her career stats of 58 extra-base hits out of a total of 108 hits.
“My plate discipline improved and I was more patient,” Manwarren said. “I can be antsy at the plate sometimes but I think that’s what allowed me to only strikeout the three times. I think I always tried to pick out a good pitch and drive it hard and if you do that, you’re going to have success.”
Her consistency in all three seasons was another trademark as she totaled 38, 36 and 34 hits; drove in 38, 34 and 35 runs and scored 36, 38 and 22 runs. She finished with a career batting average of .484.
“Brie was a kid who always wanted it and worked harder than about any player I have coached,” said Mai, who finished her 10th season with the Buffs this spring. “Every year she took a step forward in becoming a better pitcher and a better player. There are times where you’re just in awe of how she performed. She stays so composed and focused and yet she takes ownership if she slips up.”
Manwarren’s career won-loss mark was 45-10 while her team posted a 53-12 record in those three seasons. Her career total of 37 doubles is a program record. She ranks second in all-time wins behind Ford’s 55 victories.
Mai called Manwarren a generational player and one who can inspire younger players to work hard and achieve lofty goals.
“She loves the game and is more of a gamer than any player I’ve had and she works that hard off the field, too,” Mai said.
Manwarren wears the No. 3 on her Buffalo uniform and perhaps it is symbolic that three is the representative number of a strikeout.
While Manwarren and her teammates only made one trip to the state tournament in her three seasons, there are memories that she will not soon forget.
A 14-inning win at Great Bend in 2022 was among those; pitching in the state tournament; and winning the two WAC titles also made her list.
“I loved putting the Buffalo uniform on,” Manwarren said. “It was a dream of mine when I was a little girl to have the Buffalo across the uniform I would wear. I hope I inspired other young girls to have the same dreams.”
WAC COACH OF YEAR
Hays High coach Abby Gillan was selected as WAC Coach of the Year for the Indians (15-6, 11-1 WAC) who upset Garden City for the league title.
When Gillan resumed her coaching duties in the 2022 season, her goal was quite simple – return the Lady Indians to prominence in the Western Athletic Conference and also be competitive in the Class 5A postseason playoffs.
Consider that she has accomplished most of those goals in two short seasons as she guided the Indians to an 11-1 WAC record that was good enough for a one-game advantage over two-time defending champion Garden City.
Overall, the Lady Indians compiled a 15-6 record only to have their postseason ended prematurely with a loss to WAC rival Great Bend in the regional semifinals. The Indians had swept the Lady Panthers in the three regular-season match-ups.
“When I came back, I set the same expectations that I had with the program before,” said Gillan, who in her first tenure at the helm coached from 2009 to 2015, before taking a break.
The Lady Indians had last won the WAC in 2011 during Gillan’s first time around.
“Not settling for less is a huge key to success and having a summer program that develops players and builds on that success you have during the spring is one of the keys,” Gillan said.
Gillan said that while she still sets high standards for her players as well as herself, she’s more laid back in her second go-around as a coach.
“The kids still work hard and put time into it,” she said. “But I think I enjoy watching the kids grow. Having a young and talented group, they’re just good players, and I see them getting better and better.”
Gillan’s team accomplished these goals with a mostly underclassmen group of players, led by junior pitcher Aubree Thomas and sophomore Riley Dreher.
Thomas compiled an 11-3 won-loss record while pitching 93.1 innings. She struck out 111 and walked just 24 batters. Her earned-run-average was a solid 2.25. Dreher, who is the No. 2 pitcher and also plays second base (Thomas is in centerfield when not on the mound), batted .521 with 37 hits and 29 RBIs while Thomas had 35 hits and averaged .486. The team’s defense had a .911 average for the 21-game schedule.
FIRST TEAM WAC
GARDEN CITY—P Brie Manwarren, 12; IB Piper Harris, 10; SS Emma Ortiz, 11
HAYS HIGH—P Aubree Thomas, 11; 2B Riley Dreher, 10; SS Dezarae Schmidt, 11
GREAT BEND—CF DeShawnna Bryant, 10; P-SS Paige Thexton, 11
LIBERAL—2B Zoey Torres, 10
PLAYER OF YEAR—Brie Manwarren, Garden City
COACH OF YEAR—Abby Gillan, Hays High
SECOND TEAM WAC
HAYS HIGH—3B Lakyn Zimmerman, 11; 2B/CF Ashlyn Zimmer, 12
LIBERAL—P Jenna Ormiston, 12; IB Lexi Miller, 10; SS Taylor Harding, 10
DODGE CITY—C Tatum Steiner, 10
GARDEN CITY—C Kamryn Foster, 12
GREAT BEND—P Alyssa McCauley, 9; RF Katherine Mazouch, 9
Hays High 11-1 15-6
Garden City 10-2 17-3
Great Bend 6-6 11-11
Liberal 3-9 6-15
Dodge City 0-12 3-18
HAYS (11-1, 15-6)—W *Garden City 13-6; LL Valley Center 0-20, 2-8; W *Dodge City 13-0; WW Dodge City 15-0, 16-0; WL *Garden City 5-1, 2-8; W *Great Bend 8-1; WW *Great Bend 11-1, 5-0; WW Hays TMP 10-0, 11-10; WW *Liberal 16-1, 19-11; W *Liberal 14-1; L Salina South 9-11, l Andover Central 1-3; W Manhattan 1-0, W Newton 4-2; L Great Bend 5-10
GARDEN CITY (10-2, 17-3)—WW Wichita North 15-0, 15-0; L *Hays 6-13; WW Goodland 10-0, 11-8; WL *Hays 8-2, 1-5; W *Liberal 10-0 WW *Liberal 12-2, 5-3; 4-25—*at Great Bend 10-3; WW *Great Bend 7-4, 11-2; WW *Dodge City; W *Dodge City 10-1; WW Scott Ci; ty 4-2, 4-2; W Lawrence 7-1; L Lawrence Free State 2-5
GREAT BEND (6-6, 11-11)—L Manhattan 3-9; L McPherson 4-16; WL Hutchinson 17-6, 5-6; WW *Liberal 7-6, 7-3; W *Dodge City 12-7; WW *Dodge City 16-5, 12-1; L *Hays High 1-8; LL *Hays High 1-11, 0-5; W *Liberal 8-7; L *Garden City 3-10; LL *Garden City 4-7, 2-11; W Junction City 12-2; L McPherson 5-13; WW Hays TMP 9-6; 14-4; W Hays High 10-5; L Goddard Eisenhower 2-6
LIBERAL (3-9, 6-15)—L Derby 0-15; L Goddard 1-22; LL *Great Bend 6-7, 3-7; L McPherson 5-6, L Maize High 0-15; WW Hugoton 11-1, 16-3; L *Garden City 0-10; LL *Garden City 2-12, 3-5; L *Great Bend 7-8; WL Scott City 8-4, 5-6; LL *Hays High 1-16, 11-19; L *at Hays High 1-14; W *Dodge City 5-1; WW Dodge City 8-3, 11-0; L Manhattan 0-6
DODGE CITY (0-12, 3-18)—W Wichita South 33-5, L Salina Central 5-8; L *Hays 0-13; LL *Hays 0-15, 0-16; L *Great Bend 7-12; LL *Great Bend 5-16, 1-12; LL Hays TMP 3-12, 1-13; LL Kingman 5-11, 3-13; LL *Garden City 0-10, 4-11; L *Garden City 1-10; L *Liberal 1-5; WW Wichita Heights 14-0, 16-0; LL *Liberal 3-8,, 0-11; L Derby 2-12