They have been around each other since they were 10 years old. They have played travel ball together for the club softball team in Manly. They have been through adversity and triumph as one group.
For five sophomores on the Central Springs softball team, they have taken on the responsibility of being mainstays in the lineup and for one them, the ace pitcher.
None of them have missed the mark.
Cooper Klaahsen, Abby Pate, Carly Ryan, Lizzy Hamand and Aurora Stepleton occupy five of the nine spots on the infield and the latter four have started in double digit games for the Class 2A fourth-ranked Panthers.
This is what head coach Belinda Nelson expected.
"We talked a little bit after the season about what we need to do to get over that hump," the longtime coach at Central Springs said. "They dedicated this year and got after it. I thank them for that. They knew what they needed to do to be even better than last year."
Pate and Stepleton started in all 21 games last season that ended in the state quarterfinals in Fort Dodge. Klaahsen batted and was the starter in the circle for 20 games, but played in all 21.
Ryan and Hamand were bench pieces that played in double digit games, but weren't consistent starters. Only Klaahsen had a batting average over .300 in 2020.
"We all keep each other accountable and we're competitive," Pate said. "(Cooper) helps us keep going."
With an offseason to use the weight room, all of them made significant strides that has shown early high marks through 11 games in 2021.
Ryan and Hamand are batting exactly .500, while Pate and Stepleton are right behind them with .423 and .407 averages, respectively. Those four are behind junior Kaylea Fessler (.576) in terms of team leaders in batting average.
"We got to be at the top of our game come July 1," Nelson said.
And they showed in a 13-2 five-inning victory over Class 1A No. 8 Newman Catholic how dangerous, and patient, they can be at the plate.
Hamand drew a pair of walks, Pate had two hits and an RBI, while Stepleton knocked in two runs on an RBI single one inning after a single plated one run. All three of them crossed home plate three times.
Klaahsen was electric once again. The right-hander wiggled out of trouble in the first, stranding runners on second and third with back-to-back strikeouts. She set down the next nine Knights batters and recorded eight strikeouts.
The power is something that Hamand has developed this year, belting five of them that tie her with junior Madisyn Kelley for the team lead. Nelson credited the weight room for her emergence as a power hitter.
"Support goes a long way," the outfielder said. "Just connecting with the right pitches, it goes a long way. It kind of happens sometimes."
Ryan has been consistently in the No. 9 spot in the lineup. Nelson puts her there for two reasons. One, to treat the shortstop like a second leadoff hitter and two, because one-through-eight is too deep.
And unless someone goes cold, the 20-year leader of Central Springs is perfectly fine keeping a hitter that has 11 RBIs down in the order.
"I've never coached that way where my number nine is my weakest hitter," Nelson said. "That's kind of a shy to teams. I have her ready. Right now, it's working and I'm not going to change anything."
Of Pate's 15 hits so far, seven of them have been doubles. Nelson believes that confidence has been the spark for the infielder's hot bat.
In describing all of the sophomores, Nelson admitted that the weight room has been what has helped them grow.
"I don't think there was a time where we would under appreciate it," Hamand said. "It's a lot, but it helps us a great deal."
Since the group of five have been around the Franklin Mead Athletic Field for the majority of their lives, it has been their dream to make an impact for the Panthers.
It is turning into reality.
"We've just grown as a family," Pate said. "It is very meaningful. To us, we have to fill in shoes we've seen forever. We have to take the position and roll, it's a lot to think about."
Even the upperclassmen have noticed the time and effort the Class of 2023 has put into the practice field and on game day.
"Even when they came in as eighth graders, they still had the passion and got the jerseys they deserved," senior Abigayle Angell said. "They put the time and effort when the time came.
"(Cooper) has a big leadership role."
Nelson compared the five sophomores to the six that came from the Class of 2011. When they were seniors, that group made it to the state tournament for the first time and finished seventh.
"They push each other, they do the travel ball thing, their families are close," she said.
That won't satisfy the collection of talent this time around. They are wanting an extended stay in Fort Dodge in July.
"Growing up together, you have that vision for each other," Hamand said.
Zach Martin is a sports reporter for the Globe Gazette. Reach him via email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @zach_martin95.