Sixteen games into the 2010 baseball season, Ar-We-Va was sitting at 6-10 overall.
Then head coach Phil Snyder knew he had a better club than had performed up to that point, but little did he know at the time that the Rockets would put together a run that would land them at the state tournament for the first time in school history.
Ar-We-Va entered postseason play in Class 1A that year at 10-13-1 overall.
The Rockets opened the district tournament with an 11-1 victory over Charter Oak-Ute at Dunlap.
Snyder’s squad then posted three consecutive 3-2 victories, beating Woodbine at Dunlap, Woodbury Central at Moville in the district title game and East Greene in the substate championship contest at Denison.
"East Greene had a very good team that year and we knew it was going to be a challenge, but I just remember telling the guys to play with confidence and keep doing what got them this far," commented Snyder.
Ar-We-Va built a 3-1 lead over East Greene with starting pitcher Neil Liechti and reliever Ryan Schurke handling the duties on the mound.
Liechti threw five innings before giving away to Schurke. With Ar-We-Va up 3-2 and one out away from the win, Schurke got an East Greene batter to connect on a fly ball to right field, as Quentin Thomsen circled under the ball and made the catch for the game-winning third out.
"I remember turning to my assistant coach Darin Schurke and just shaking his hand and thinking to myself this can’t be real," Snyder said.
"I don’t think it really set in until the bus ride home that night. I mean, these guys had every reason to throw in the towel halfway through the season, but they just kept battling and really played solid fundamental baseball down the stretch," he added.
The win over East Greene put Ar-We-Va at 13-13-1 going into its initial state tournament appearance against unbeaten and top-ranked Martensdale-St. Mary’s (40-0) on July 24.
Ar-We-Va had never seen the likes of a team like M-SM.
The Rockets were no-hit and managed just one baserunner in a 16-0 quarterfinal loss to the Blue Devils, which capped off a perfect 43-0 season with a 3-0 victory over Remsen-St. Mary’s in the state championship game.
"We knew were going to face a powerhouse. I mean, their whole team averaged over .400 and watching them take their infield, I swear everyone of those guys could have been a pitcher. They just looked like a well-oiled machine," Snyder said.
The outcome was never in doubt, according to Snyder, but the Rocket boss said that just watching his team have the opportunity to perform at Principal Park and play on the big stage is what he’ll remember the most.
"It was a very tight group of boys. The senior leadership was tremendous and they made all of the underclassmen feel like they were just as important as the upperclassmen," Snyder said.
"We didn’t have high expectations going into the season. The guys just had fun playing together and they just started clicking late in the season and got on a roll. That really was it," noted Snyder, who coached baseball at Ar-We-Va for nine years and was the school’s head football coach for 10 years.
In fact, Snyder coached Ar-We-Va’s 2007 Eight-Man football team that advanced to the UNI-Dome and a spot in the state semifinals for the first time in school history.
"That was pretty special. I really didn’t think about it too much, but that’s a pretty cool accomplishment," Snyder said.
Snyder currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and works for BSN Sports, a company that designs sports equipment.
"It’s sort of like what Graphic Edge does in Carroll," said Snyder, who will have his 49th birthday in May.
Ar-We-Va’s senior classs included Neil Liechti, Ryan Schurke, Jeremy Ehlers, Matt Dalton and Derrick Cornelius.
Other members of the team were Ryan Dalton, Elliot Kock, Mitch Hagger, Jakob Kraus, Hunter Agan, Quentin Thomsen, Ross Pawletzki, Ryan Hagge, Blake Liechti, Kyle Gallagher and Brandon Koch.
Darin Schurke graduated from Denison High School in 1992 and was Snyder’s assistant coach during the 2010 season.
"The biggest thing I remember about the team that year was just how much fun I had being around those guys. They worked really hard and I don’t think their record really showed just how good they were," Schurke said.
"We played a lot of bigger schools during the season and I think that was to our benefit when the district tournament began."
"And because of our record, I think a lot of other teams overlooked us and thought we were going to be a pushover. Our kids took that challenge to heart and put a lot of things together," Schurke said.
Schurke knew the state matchup with M-SM was going to be a tough one for the Rockets.
"They just played at a whole different level," Schurke said. "Honestly, we struggled at times, but the kids fought and still had fun with it. I think they enjoyed the moment and the opportunity to play at Principal Park in front a very supportive Rocket fanbase."
"After the game, I remember just telling the seniors that I never had an opportunity to play at the state tournament and thanked them, because it was just as fun for me as it was for them. A lot of great memories that I still look back on with a lot of pride," Schurke said.
Jeremy Ehlers led the 2013 Ar-We-Va baseball team with a .417 batting average.
At the plate, Ehlers had 35 hits, including nine doubles and one home run to go with 34 runs scored and 14 runs batted in.
Ehlers also threw 36-plus innings as a pitcher during that season.
"Our team just had a lot of fun. First of all, we had five seniors, but it just wasn’t about the five seniors. We included everyone from the eighth graders on up, because that was our team. I think any of them will say the same thing," commented Ehlers.
Ehlers said the turning point of season came in late June after an 11-3 loss to IKM-Manning, a loss that dropped the Rockets to 7-11.
"After that game, I think coach Snyder compared us to a bunch of clowns getting out of a clown car. I know coach Schurke wasn’t happy with us. Two days later we beat West Monona and things just went our way for the most part after that," Ehlers said.
Ehlers earmarked a pregame huddle in the outfield before the team’s first postseason game that lit a fire.
"Kraus was always excited and had fun pumping up the team. Let’s ride the horse boys he just kept yelling. It got us laughing and loose. He did that before each of our postseason games. I will never forget that," Ehlers said.
After a win over CO-U in the district opener, Ar-We-Va then took on Woodbine, a team that had defeated the Rockets twice during the regular season.
"Woodbine had a very good team that year with guys who had played together for three or four years. That was a big 3-2 win for us," he added.
The Rockets followed that up with another 3-2 win over Woodbury Central at Moville on the Wildcats’ home field, setting up the substate final against East Greene at Denison.
"We knew it was going to be tough. They threw a kid that went on to pitch at Iowa Central Community College and was by far the hardest thrower we faced up to that point of the season," Ehlers said.
"I remember the guys just coming up with timely hits to score our three runs. Neil Liechti gave us a great starting performance on the mound and Schurke did his job in relief."
"I remember the fly ball to Thomsen in right and him making the catch to end the game. We all just threw our arms up and the celebration began," Ehlers said.
Ehlers noted it was something special for the guys to represent Ar-We-Va at the state tournament.
"It was so cool be part of history. We didn’t care who our opponent was and how good they were," Ehlers said. "We were there to have fun and take it all in."
"Playing at Principal Park is something I will never forget. Ar-We-Va will always be mentioned in the run for Martensdale-St. Mary’s. Despite the outcome, it was an awesome experience. As a senior, there was no better way to go out than playing your final game at the state tournament," Ehlers said.
Ehlers, 28, currently is the assistant superintendent at the Carroll Municipal Golf Course.
Ryan Schurke batted .378 at the plate in the 2013 season with 28 hits, including nine doubles and two home runs to go with 25 runs scored and 13 RBIs.
On the mound, Schurke posted a 4-2 record with a 2.70 earned run average in 44 innings of work.
"We weren’t the greatest team in the world, as I remember we were really the underdog in a lot of the games. We got hot at the end of the season and just kept it going," commented Schurke.
Schurke said he was pretty nervous against East Greene in the substate final, especially when he was brought into pitch late in the game with his team up 3-1.
"Liechti threw a great game and I remember telling myself not to blow this for him. I remember picking off a runner at first base that was a huge out for us. Then I remember the last out on a fly ball to Thomsen in right field," he added.
"It was a pretty sweet feeling at the time to be the first Ar-We-Va team to qualify for state baseball. I really think we were just happy to be there, but it’s something I’ll never forget."
"What it came down to was that we really believed in ourselves. We didn’t play very good baseball at the start of the season, but we just kept playing. It was pretty exciting, even though we didn’t know what we were doing most of the time," Schurke said.
Schurke currently works in the grain department at FAC Grain at Westside.