A Warrior softball reunion

Jan. 11—OTTUMWA — Destiny Lewis was prepared to travel several hours away from home to continue her college softball career.

Then came some news that brought the Indianola native back home to central Iowa.

One of the greatest players in the history of the Indian Hills softball program returned to the Ottumwa campus on Saturday night, along with several of her Warrior teammates, to celebrate a memorable season that ended with a top-eight finish in the JUCO World Series. For Lewis, last season's National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Junior College Division I Player of the Year, reunions are becoming a trend this offseason as the two-time First Team All-American is headed back to Iowa to play NCAA Division I softball next season choosing to join her former IHCC head coach, Lindsay Diehl, at Drake University in Des Moines after initially signing last May with Southeastern Louisiana University.

"It was a quick process to kind of get going," Lewis said of her decision to join the Bulldogs and continue being coached by Diehl. "When I heard she got the job last summer, I did everything I possibly could to play with her again. She's been like a mother to me, a coach to me, a best friend. She's been there with me though ups and downs. I wouldn't be the person I am today without her. I give her a lot of credit because she's shaped me into who I am."

Lewis and Diehl were both part of Saturday's reunion at the Hellyer Student Life Center as the 2023 IHCC softball team was honored for their accomplishment. That list includes several team and individual program records as well as a 47-10 record accumulated last spring, the most wins in five seasons under Diehl, while finishing among the top eight in the national tournament for only the third time in program history and the second time under Diehl.

It proved to be a fittingly conclusion for Diehl in her reign as IHCC head softball coach, who led the Warriors to an eighth-place national finish in her first season. After guiding Indian Hills to 186 victories, two trips to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I World Series, four NJCAA Region XI titles, two NJCAA District Championships and four NJCAA Region XI Coach of the Year honors, Diehl accepted the head coaching position at Drake taking over for Rich Calvert who guided the Bulldogs to over 500 wins over the past 21 seasons.

"Just the part of coaching athletes at Indian Hills that have gone on to play at great programs, I always tried to learn something new so I could prepare our athletes for that next level. Having that knowledge has been helpful," Diehl said of her transition as a head coach from IHCC to Drake. "There's so much more access to things. Trying to prepare for an opponent here, you're looking for someone's mom on Facebook that might have live-streamed a game to go prepare for some hitters. Now, you have to upload video of hitters. I can go watch everyone we're playing and get more of a game-plan together. I saw how beneficial that was last year preparing to play Crowder to go the national tournament. I watched hours and hours of video. We're able to do more of that at Drake."

Lewis, for one, has plenty of faith that Diehl will have long term success at Drake. During her record-setting two years with the Warriors, Lewis felt like she was playing under the guidance of a four-year coach.

"After my first year, I just kept wondering why Indian Hills isn't a four-year school and why isn't Coach Diehl a four-year coach," Lewis said. "Now that she's finally at a four-year school where athletes can spend four years training under her and playing under her, she's going to be able to show all of her good coaching techniques and really build some connections.

"I was so thankful she got this opportunity. She deserves to be at a four-year school."

Lewis will be joined at Drake by another IHCC teammate, Abby Martin, who like Lewis will get the chance to reunite with her former Warrior head coach. Under Diehl's tutelage, the Warrior softball program set 10 different individual single season and career records, including single season batting average (2022) and three of the top-four single season home run marks with Lewis (62) and Sydney Anderson (50) producing the most career home runs hit by a pair of Warrior teammates.

"I was actually thinking about quitting softball after my senior year of high school," said Anderson, who will playing four-year college softball starting this season at Missouri S&T. "I came to Indian Hills as a courtesy visit and Lindsay Diehl totally changed my outlook on life and on softball. I'm so glad I had her as a coach."

While many of the players and coaches have moved on with their careers as softball players and student athletes, many of the 2023 IHCC softball players donned gold, black and white 'Trophy Season' t-shirts that were produced last spring as the Warriors collected regional and district championships on the way to the national tournament berth. Many of those trophies were on display by the IHCC players on Saturday from the All-American honors to the gold glove award earned by T.J. Stoaks.

"It just kind of feels like we never left because of the connections that we all have together," Stoaks said. "I'm around them all the time. It feels like we're just going to go back after this and go back to the dorms together. It's kind of sad to think that we're actually leaving after this."

Diehl, Lewis, Martin and the rest of the 2024 Drake Bulldogs will be preparing in the upcoming weeks for the first games of the season. Drake will open their first season under Diehl in Cedar Falls as part of the Doc Halverson UNI-Dome Classic starting on Feb. 9 against Omaha in the first of five games for the Bulldogs before heading to Tucson, Arizona, to compete in the Hillenbrand Invitational.

While Diehl is getting comfortable in Bulldog blue and white, the former IHCC softball player and head coach was more than happy to put on the maroon and gold of the Warriors one more time last weekend.

"I'm a proud alumni and I will always be a proud Indian Hills Warrior," Diehl said. "I will forever want to program to do great and be great. I'll be checking on the team all the time. I'm proud to say I'm from here. If I hadn't had the chance to come to Indian Hills, I wouldn't have this opportunity at Drake. I love it here forever."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.