The Behnkens' sister act leads to success for the Homestead softball team

Published on: 7/2/2012

Mequon - Homestead freshman shortstop Hannah Behnken doesn't mind following in her senior sister Rachel's shoes on the Highlanders softball team.

She just doesn't want to play her position.

'I'd always try to do stuff that she (Rachel) did, but I never even thought about playing pitcher,' she said. 'That was always Rachel's thing (laughs).'

And a good thing it was, too, as both earned 2012 NOW All-Suburban softball selections for their efforts this season.

Further, big sister took no offense at having her position dissed in such a joking way and was proud of her younger sibling.

'It was such a fun season being able to play with Hannah,' said Rachel, a four-year starter and veteran of the 2010 WIAA state finals run. 'She grew up so much this season. She was so nervous at the start, but as the season went along, she grew in her confidence. It was amazing to see.'

The pair led the rebuilding Highlanders to a 19-6 record, good for runner-up positions in both the North Shore Conference and WIAA sectional.

Before this season, the siblings had only briefly played together on the same team. That was when they were both much younger and before age group considerations took over.

Challenges during the year

Both had to overcome trials going into this season. For Hannah, it was making that jump from middle school and the Mequon Heat club team to high-level varsity softball.

'I could almost feel my stomach drop that first (varsity) game,' she said. 'I was so nervous. It really took me a little while to warm-up to it.'

But warm-up she did.

'Her combination of speed and power was quite special,' coach Dave Keel said, 'and that's why she led off for us. She led our team in runs scored, stolen bases, doubles, triples and tied for the lead in home runs. She is definitely an all-state-caliber shortstop.'

Meanwhile, big sister Rachel had a little harder road, as she was shaking off the last vestiges of an injury-plagued 2011 season where a stress fracture in her back all but eliminated physical activity for six months.

'It was getting so painful I had to do something about it,' she said. She still does basic core exercises to keep the back strong and was fortunate enough to not have it be an issue this spring.

Hannah was emblematic of the team's youth this season, as there were only a tiny handful of veterans (Hannah Young, Andria Savitch, along with Rachel) left from that powerful squad of two years ago and fewer still from the 2011 squad, which also made the state tournament.

But the youthful team jelled well, with the only hill it couldn't hurdle was North Shore rival Germantown, which won the league title for the second year in a row and beat the Highlanders for the third time in the season in the WIAA sectional final.

Young team came together

'We had a great year,' Rachel said. 'Considering the people we had (and lost) the last few seasons, just great seniors, it was an amazing feat (to win 19 games). The young girls that we had really worked so hard. They came to practice hard every day and coach (Dave) Keel really got them ready.'

And they wouldn't have gotten anywhere near as far without Rachel's leadership, said Keel, as she posted a four-year record of 47-12 with a 1.12 ERA and was selected to play in the recently held Coaches All-Star Game played in Stevens Point.

'She was a phenomenal player for us and a great leader,' Keel said. 'She fought those back issues and came back to have a great senior season.'

Hannah said Rachel helped make it easy on her.

'She was a lot of fun to be around and was a great teammate,' Hannah said. 'She helped you when you were down and when she got strong again, she was amazing to watch.

'Besides I got it (her competitiveness) from her (laughs). We both want to win every game.'

For Hannah, her trajectory is straight up. She played rookie baseball in kindergarten and has been playing softball since third grade. It's a game she plays all year long as her height (5-8) and quick reflexes always make the game seem easier than it really is. She is playing for the Shoreline Smash club team this summer.

Meanwhile, this is the end of the line for Rachel in softball. Life is calling her forward. She is working hard saving her baby-sitting money and heading off to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., to major in nursing. She will have a healthy back when she starts lugging all her heavy college texts and is ready for a new beginning.

'It's a gorgeous campus,' she said, 'and I know I'll do well there. I'm very excited.'

And she's secure in the knowledge that little sister Hannah will hold down the fort at Homestead nicely without her.

'They'll be fine,' Rachel said.