All-Area Softball: Wagner's return home pays off
A sense of family and home are important cogs in Lydia Wagner's life.
For the Zumbrota-Mazeppa softball team, Wagner, the 2013 All-Area Player of the Year lit up the bases with a .455 batting average, belting eight home runs and a school record 47 RBI, helping the Cougars to a No. 1 ranking in Class 2A and a berth in the Section 1AA championship.
All the while, it was a family-like atmosphere for the Z-M squad.
"Even outside of softball, we have sleepovers and hang out with each other," Wagner said. "It didn't get to us being ranked No. 1; we just went out and played."
But early in her high-school career, it looked as though Wagner wouldn't be a part of that family. As far as sports go, hockey is Wagner's passion.
With Z-M too small to field a hockey team, Wagner enrolled for a short time at Red Wing, playing on the Wingers' varsity team as a seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grader. During her eighth-grade season, Wagner scored the deciding goal in the state quarterfinals against Fergus Falls on the way to a third-place finish.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," Wagner said of the state hockey trip. "Being in the Xcel Energy Center, scoring the game-winning goal with 30 seconds left in the game.
"That's one of my best memories I have of sports. My parents blew up the photo (of the game-winning goal) and we have it hanging in the house."
As much as Wagner loved hockey, the daily commute from Zumbrota to Red Wing was getting to be too much for Lydia and the Wagner family.
"I was in the high school, then one of us was in Burnside and the other was in Sunnyside," Wagner said. "I was always living (in Zumbrota), but I was making the commute all year for hockey. ... It got to be a lot for my parents."
So in her sophomore year of high school, Wagner stayed in her hometown and enrolled at Z-M. Due to Minnesota State High School League transfer rules, she had to sit out of varsity sports for a year. During that time, Wagner played junior hockey and joined the Cougars' junior varsity softball team.
Right away, the talent was clear to the Z-M coaches.
"She could have come up (to the varsity) as a sophomore because of her hitting ability," said Cougars' head coach Kevin Nelson. "She was the best player on the JV."
After spending her spring in ninth grade on the Red Wing track and field team, Wagner admits there were some nerves coming back on the softball diamond, but the junior varsity stint ended up being a blessing.
"It boosted my confidence and felt good about playing again," Wagner said. "I hit a lot of home runs that year."
And it didn't take long for Wagner to get reacquainted with her teammates.
"I knew everybody from kindergarten and first grade," Wagner said. "It wasn't weird at all (coming back)."
Once Wagner could make her way onto the varsity, the righty's big bat proved to be a big asset for Z-M. During a two-year varsity career, Wagner racked up 11 home runs, eight doubles, two triples, 67 RBI, a .426 batting average and a .703 slugging percentage. Wagner's speed was also an asset, with Nelson saying that she was never caught stealing during her senior season.
And after a stint at shortstop as a junior, Wagner moved to the outfield this spring, which Nelson said benefitted her all-around game.
"At shortstop, when she would make a mistake, that would carry into her batting, too," Nelson said. "Playing center field, she had fewer balls hit there, but they were all important balls. ... We've always had strong center fielders. There were a couple plays this year where the ball was going to the left-field gap, everyone thought it would drop and Lydia would run it down."
With Nelson's confidence in her, Wagner felt comfortable in center from the get-go. And Nelson's faith would be repaid during the Cougars' Section 1AA elimination game against Winona Cotter.
"Lydia fielded a ground ball and threw a perfect strike to home that stopped the game-winning run," Nelson said. "Between that throw and the balls she'd chase down, no one else would have made those plays."
Along with giving her high-school softball career some traction, Wagner also got her high-school hockey fix when Z-M joined the Dodge County co-op with Blooming Prairie, Byron, Dover-Eyota, Hayfield, Kasson-Mantorville, Pine Island and Triton.
Thanks to her exploits on the diamond and on the ice, Wagner will try her hand as a two-sport athlete in college at Division III Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter, Minn.
Wagner said she had some offers to play Division I hockey on the East Coast, but family comes first.
"If I would have been out east, I would have been home once or twice a year," Wagner said. "Now I'm an hour away and that's great; I can visit them, and they can come and see me play."
And with a mighty swing that made an impact in a small time frame, Nelson has little doubt that Wagner can prosper for the Gusties.
"She has the potential to be a very good college player," Nelson said. "Her bat is very capable, and her speed and her arm are great. I think she'll make a very good center fielder or left fielder in college."