Just as every successful company has a talented and authoritative boss, every successful family has forceful but loving parents, and with all due respect to Seneca High School head coach Dan Stecken and assistant Don Brown, there was the on-the-field parental influence on this year’s club that made the year most special.
Lyda Robinson, who served as the vocal, aggressive, in-your-face but loving father figure, and Taylor Bushman, the just-as-loving but in contrast quiet maternal influence on her teammates, provided both the talented on-the-field example for all the Lady Irish to follow, but also gave them parental-like guidance that allowed them all to achieve above and beyond any team in school history: a school-record 33 wins, an Interstate Eight Conference championship, a regional title and a Sweet Sixteen berth in which the sectional final slipped away from them by a single run against the eventual Class 2A state runnerup.
And now those two senior leaders, both tabbed First Team All-State by the Illinois Coaches Association, can add as an additional milestone being named The Times Prep Softball Co-Players of the Year.
“That’s a good analogy. They are like a set of team parents, one that Coach Brown and I tried not to mess up too much,” laughed Stecken, whose program has now gone 291-164 over his 13 seasons at the helm. “I’ve had many special players, but for leadership, Lyda’s hands down No. 1 on the field. When you have that voice of a kid who the players respect – I don’t want to say fear, but there’s a little bit of an edge to her – it’s like having a coach on the field …Taylor leads more by example, but she’s very much like the team mom. When a player gets down, she’s there to pick them up and encourage them to move on and get ‘em next time.
“It’s obviously a special set of leadership skills that I’m not sure how we’ll replace … They’ve been a couple of spark plugs for us the last couple years for us, that’s for sure. They’re both great softball players and even better people.”
Said Bushman, “I guess you could say that yes, we’re parents. Together, we brought two types of leadership to the team and I think that helped us. Not everyone responds to one kind of leadership, there was something for every one to look for. I think Lyda and I were each other’s leaders, It’s always great having her there. I think we push each other and make each other better.”
A lightning-quick, slap-hitting lead-off hitter, Bushman entered the season coming off a historic junior campaign, one in which she set Lady Irish single-season marks for average (.628), at bats (129), hits (81), runs (68) and steals (56). However, she had hip surgery at the end of last November, putting her behind in her off-season training and was, according to Stecken, only about 50 percent of her form when cleared to resume softball activities just before the official start of practices.
But through her tough mental approach, tireless work ethic and a few speed camps, it didn’t take long for her to regain her greatest asset and was soon up to 75-80 percent and building rapidly to being back as the rally-igniting presence for a powerful offense.
Despite battling lingering soreness throughout, Bushman batted a robust .568 with 49 runs scored, both second best in the area, with a Times-best 38 stolen bases. She leaves SHS with career records for career average (.502, 221-for-440), runs scored (172) and steals (146).
“My best season was probably my junior season, but this season was my favorite one because of what we achieved,” Bushman said. “I think we did great this year. We won conference, we won the regional and got all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. We didn’t win there, so that was disappointing, but everyone on the team gave 100 percent, put their whole heart and soul into this season, gave everything they had out there on the field.”
Robinson was only a step behind her friend statistically for the season and career. In addition to outstanding glove work at shortstop, the Lady Irish standout batted .504, scored 48 runs and stole 27 bases while eclipsing her lead-off partner with 31 RBIs.
Following that theme, she is second to Bushman on the school career batting list with an amazing .474 average (199-for-420).
“There were finally some school records that I broke that Taylor didn’t break already, because she broke like eight of them,” Robinson said with a laugh. “We didn’t really look at our statistics until after the season and Coach Stecken came to me and said, ‘Well, you broke some school records again, but Taylor ended up one-upping you again.’ I just laughed it off … I loved it in that it was a competition in a very positive way. It made us both better. She is such a hard worker and I look up to her so much. It worked out perfectly for us. It was awesome.”
There was proof of that in the scorebook, as the Lady Irish won their first three games before losing to Dwight, 6-4, on the road on March 20. They then won 21 games in a row, including an 8-7 win over 1A’s No. 1 ranked Somonauk and a 3-2 victory over that class’s No. 3 ranked Marquette. The streak lifted them as high as No. 5 in the ICA’s 2A poll.
After their second straight regional crown, the season and a nine-game win string came to an end with a sectional final loss to host Beecher, leaving Seneca with an incredible 33-4 season ... a season that couldn’t have happened without the leadership of their unofficial “mom and pop.”
“We had so much fun I wouldn’t change a thing from this season for the world,” said Robinson. “I couldn’t agree more that we were like parents. Taylor realized it was her senior year and really came out of her shell and talked a lot more. Not as much as me, still, but people always heard me but when someone as quiet as she always was says something, it carries a lot of weight too. She says things when they need to be said.
“Yeah, that’s a great description of us. I’ve really loved playing all four years with her and I’m really going to miss her and miss playing for Seneca.”