When catcher Kaitlyn Liebing joined the Amboy softball program as a freshman, she had a familiar face staring back at her in the pitcher’s circle.
Her cousin Kiara Kaleel was a senior, and one of the big reasons the Clippers program had taken a big step forward over the previous few seasons.
Having Kaleel around made the transition easier for Liebing, now a junior, who had also watched older sisters Lauren (2007 grad) and Hillary (2010) play for the Clippers.
“Just having her around made me more comfortable,” Liebing said. “I think the closeness of this team, and the families involved, is a big reason why we’ve started to have success.”
Liebing is one of four players that had sisters in the program.
Freshman Hallie Nauman’s older sister, Katie, was a fixture in the Clippers’ lineup, as was classmate Karlee Doege’s sister, Cassie.
Julia Setchell had two older sisters, Emily and Katie, play in the program.
Siblings and cousins are also prevalent on the team that will in play in the 1A state semifinal today against Trico at EastSide Centre in East Peoria.
Cousins Micaela and Hannah McCoy play together in the outfield. Micaela plays in center and Hannah in left. Hannah had been part of the track program in previous years.
“This is the first full season we’ve really played together in high school,” Hannah said. “That’s made it special.”
The two did play together in Amboy Rage summer traveling team.
MIcaela made a big play in the supersectional, reading a hard hit ball off the bat and catching it near the fence.
“We benefitted a ton from the Rage,” Micaela said. “It made us better players, but we also became better friends. Those friendships are important to forming a team.”
The lone sister tandem on this year’s team is junior Sydney Wilhelm and freshman Delaney Wilhelm.
“Its great because we are able to support each other during games,” Delaney said. “I think you always look up to the older siblings. I had an older sister and brother [Tanner] that I watched in sports. I wanted to do as well as they did.
“We’re competitive with each other, but its more about being supportive.”
Sydney plays first base, and Delaney was moved up to varsity for the postseason. Delaney has been patrolling right field and batting ninth in the order.
She has come through in big spots both defensively and at the plate for Amboy.
She threw a runner out at the plate in the sixth inning of Monday’s supersectional. That came after she had put Amboy up 1-0 against Putnam County with an RBI triple.
Delaney also played a big role on the Clippers regional championship basketball team. Sydney missed much of the basketball season with an injury.
The good news for Amboy is they’ll have to replace only four players – the two McCoys, Destinee Oenes and Kelsie Thurman – from this year’s squad. Having freshmen like Wilhelm, Doege and Nauman already contributing will help soften that blow.
“I just think its great time for girls sports in Amboy,” Sydney said. “We were good in basketball and softball, and a lot of the players will be back next year.”
1A state tournament at EastSide Centre, East Peoria
• Altamont (27-4) vs. West Prairie, 10 a.m.
• Amboy (22-9) vs. Trico (32-3), 12:30 p.m.