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Hays Indians sweep top WAC softball honors
hays softy


HAYS -- In many ways, the 2024 softball season for the Hays Lady Indians was eerily similar to their campaign of 2023.

They defended their Western Athletic Conference championship with an identical 11-1 record only to edge out Great Bend’s 10-2 mark in 2024 as compared to Garden City’s 10-2 record in 2023.

Coach Abby Gillan’s squad had to overcome the early season loss of standout pitcher Aubree Thomas, who suffered a fractured bone in her glove hand and missed the first month.

“Winning WAC was one of the goals the senior girls set,” said Gillan. “It’s difficult to get to the top and it’s even harder to stay there. We always knew the road to the title would be through Great Bend and Garden City, but we were able to take care of business.”

With Thomas sidelined in April, it was left to Riley Dreher to take the mound and fill in for the injured senior, who would be voted Player of the Year by the conference’s coaches despite missing a good portion of the season.

“We were able to take two of the three games against Great Bend and heading into that series I felt that could be the determining factor as to who would win WAC,” Gillan said. “We played well. Getting the first win, and following with a second took pressure off of us.”

Hays and Great Bend swept the remaining three-game series against Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal. Garden City, a perennial titleholder or contender, had its first down season under Coach Trina Mai in her decade-plus tenure with the Lady Buffaloes.

Gillan said there were notable differences between her 2023 and 2024 title teams.

“The personalities of the teams were different, but each team had seniors leading the way,” Gillan said. “The 2023 team was very level-headed and responsive and this year’s team had a little more intensity. We knew going into the season that with Aubree on the mound, we could get through some other growing pains with new players.”

Then, Thomas injured her hand prior to the season opener. 

“Her status for the entire season was unsure,” Gillan said. “After surgery, she was able to work out and stay in shape and could continue to pitch. The fitness was important to her.”

Finally, after missing eight games, Thomas returned to the lineup just in time for the big series with Great Bend.

“For us, our pitching was a strength,” Gillan said. “Riley gave us some good innings and a good solid 1-2 punch on the mound. Our defense still struggled at times but our younger outfield was a bright spot.”

When in the lineup to hit, Thomas and Dreher provided the Indians with a powerful 1-2 punch, too.

In 10 games, Thomas batted 11-for-23, a .478 average with 4 doubles, 1 home run, 9 RBIs and 13 runs scored. Dreher collected a team-high 38 hits, battled .452 with 9 doubles, 8 triples, 3 home runs and 33 RBIs.

When not pitching, Dreher played third base, senior Dezarae Schmidt (another 1st team all-WAC selection) played shortstop, Lakyn Zimmerman, yet another senior, caught early in the season but played first base most of the year and junior Dani Willeford, a second-team all-WAC pick, completed the infield at second base.

On the mound, both players went 7-6 as the Indians played a super competitive non-WAC schedule. Hays (15-12, 11-1 WAC) lost momentum down the stretch and ended the season with a 5-game losing streak.

Thomas pitched 75.1 innings with 86 strikeouts and a 2.50 earned-run-average while Dreher pitched 78 innings, with 51 strikeouts and a 2.51 ERA.

“Riley had a great year at the plate and our offensive weapons allowed us to do different things,” Gillan said. “We hit the ball hard, we had more speed on the bases and we could also play small ball..”

Gillan said the graduating seniors have left a legacy of excellence that she hopes will carry through into the program’s future.

“They got better every year and from a coach’s perspective that’s what you look for,” Gillan said of her senior class. “A lot of time, a lot of hard work and dedication paid off for them.”

In addition to the three Hays players, the first team all-WAC selections included three Great Bend players who helped the Panthers to a 22-7 season record (10-2 in the WAC) and a berth in the Class 5A state playoffs. Those three were outfielder DeShawnna Bryant, and infielders Paige Thexton and Kya Behr. Garden City had two first teamers in repeat infielder Piper Harris and newcomer pitcher Kyleigh Whitehurst. Dodge City’s Tatum Steiner, a catcher, rounded out the first team picks.

WAC Player of the Year

Prior to the beginning of the 2024 softball spring season, Hays High’s Aubree Thomas had lofty goals.

What she didn’t anticipate, however, was a preseason injury that resulted in a fractured bone in her glove hand that would keep her out of the Lady Indians’ lineup for the first month.

“When the injury occurred, I just knew I had to keep a positive outlook and was able to still work on pitching and staying in shape,” said Thomas, who was voted WAC Softball Player of the Year despite a limited campaign. “I had a great occupational therapist who was able to help with the rehabilitation process and gave me a better outlook.”

When she learned that she had been chosen WAC POY, she was mildly surprised but pleasantly pleased.

“It’s a great honor because there’s other really good players in the league,” Thomas said. “It felt amazing knowing it was my senior season and I could go out with a bang and hopefully leave a legacy for other girls to follow.”

Thomas, who plans to attend Hutchinson Community College and play (pitch) for the Blue Dragons, said she was able to work with her future coach in the off-season to improve her staple of pitches that includes a fastball, curve ball, riser, screwball and a change-up.

“My go-to pitch is probably my curve ball,” said Thomas. “It breaks a lot and it’s been really reliable for me. I still want to work on the consistency of all my pitches. I’d like to be able to get my change-up to where I can throw it at any time.”

For the most part, Thomas was held out of hitting after the hand injury, but in her limited 10 games at the plate, she was impressive. She battled .478 with 11 hits in 23 at-bats. She had four doubles, one home run, 9 RBIs and 13 runs scored. On the mound, she went 7-6 with a 2.50 earned-run-average and record 86 strikeouts in just 75.1 innings.

Thomas said the highlight of the regular season came in the three-game series with Great Bend (WAC runner-up by one game) in which the Indians won the first two in what proved to be the deciding series for the WAC title.

“They were so competitive and had a lot of good players,” Thomas said of the Lady Panthers. “It was a big week for us. I hope that our senior class set a standard for softball that you work hard in the off-season and will be the standard for the future of the program.”

Pitching has been her big thing from the time she began playing t-ball in the fifth grade.

“I like having the ball in my hand as much as possible and I want to be in control,” she said.

That has been a remedy for success for Thomas and Hays High over the last four years.

Thomas said she plans to become a physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner.

“I just want to go and explore my options because they are somewhat similar pathways in academic curriculum,” Thomas said. 

HAYS—P Aubree Thomas, 12; P Riley Dreher, 11; IF Dezarae Schmidt, 12

GREAT BEND—RF DeShawnna Bryant, 11; SS Paige Thexton, 12; 2B Kya Behr, 9;

GARDEN CITY—IF Piper Harris, 11; P Kyleigh Whitehurst, 11

DODGE CITY—C Tatum Steiner, 11

PLAYER OF YEAR—Aubree Thomas, Hays

COACH OF YEAR—Abby Gillan, Hays


HAYS—IF Lakyn Zimmerman, 12; IF Dani Willeford, 11

GREAT BEND—CF Camyn Post, 9; P Chayla Prendergast, 9; P Braelyn Turner, 10; C Kamryn Koelsch, 10

GARDEN CITY—OF Yasmin Angales, 9

DODGE CITY—IF Emma Bell, 10

LIBERAL—IF Taylor Harding, 11


Hays 11-1 15-12

Great Bend 10-2 22-7

Garden City 6-6 9-16

Dodge City 2-10 6-21

Liberal 1-11 6-19

HAYS HIGH (11-1, 15-12)—LL Valley Center 1-13, 5-11; WWW Dodge City 4-2, 10-4, 13-3; W Garden City 7-4; L Derby 2-14; W Wichita NW 5-2; L Eisenhower 2-3, L Maize South 1-13; WWL Great Bend 3-1; 11-8, 3-13; WW Garden City 16-0; 21-2; WW TMP 20-5; 9-1; WL Salina Central 2-1; 5-14; WWW Liberal 15-0; 13-3; 15-1; LL Salina South 1-12; 5-8; L Andover Central 0-6; L Manhattan 0-4; W Eisenhower 2-5

GREAT BEND (10-2, 22-7)—WW Pratt 5-3, 5-1; WW Hutchinson 17-5, 14-4; W McPherson 8-6; L Manhattan 1-4; WWW Liberal 16-2, 15-4, 15-0; WW Dodge City 15-3, 8-0; W Dodge City 4-1; L Goddard Eisenhower 4-9, L Maize South 5-10; W Derby 9-8, W Wichita NW 13-3; L Hays 1-3; WL Hays 13-3, 8-11; WWW Garden City 4-1;  16-1, 12-0; W Salina South 6-5; L McPherson 0-6; WW Hays TMP; W Newton 3-2; W Goddard 4-3; L Spring Hill 5-14 

GARDEN CITY (6-6, 9-16)—WW Wichita North 20-0, 15-0; WL Goodland 8-0, 4-9; L Hays 4-7; L Wichita NW 4-5; L Derby 1-14; L Eisenhower 1-2 L Maize South 0-13; WW Liberal 7-3; 14-4; LL Hays High 0-16; 2-21; LLL Great Bend 1-4; 1-16; 0-12; WWW Dodge City 11-1; 7-3; 12-10; LL Scott City 0-3; 0-10; LL Topeka 1-10; 1-3; W Liberal 5-2; L   

DODGE CITY (2-10, 6-21)—WW Wichita South 16-0, 22-2; LLL Hays 2-4, 4-10, 3-13, LLL Great Bend 3-15, 0-8, 1-4; L Goddard Eisenhower 0-10; L Maize South 0-6; L Derby 0-14, L Wichita Northwest 0-7; LL Salina Central 2-13, 2-20; LL TMP 8-9, 0-10; LL Pratt 3-10; 3-13; LLL Garden City 1-11; 3-7; 12-14; WWL Liberal 13-3; 8-1; 7-17; WW Wichita Heights 15-1; 24-8; L Free State 1-12 

LIBERAL (1-11, 6-19)—WW Bucklin 11-1, 14-6; L Hesston 0-1; L Kingman 5-12; LLL Great Bend 2-16, 4-15, 0-15; WW Wichita North 5-0, 25-3; L Maize 0-11, L McPherson 0-14; LL Hugoton 1-6, 3-4; LL Garden City 3-7, 4-14; L Cimarron 0-9; W Syracuse 23-0; LLL Hays 3-13; 1-15; 0-10; WLL Dodge City 17-7; 3-13; 1-8; L Garden City 2-5; L Washburn 4-14