Many coaches will tell you that it's not the destination but the journey that makes a championship run so special.
The emotional hills and valleys, the camaraderie, the moments when the team pulls together to overcome tall odds: This is what they remember. The title, well, that's just icing on the cake _ if you get it.
So it doesn't come as any surprise that the Inverness Senior All-Stars carry fond memories of their run at the Little League softball state championship. The consecutive losses in the tournament, well, those are already fading.
"The girls were more worried about me," Inverness manager Mike Reynolds said. "They knew I wanted it. Yeah, they were a little down, but these kids will bounce right back."
Strangely, one of their fondest memories may come from a loss _ a tough one, but one that proved they belonged among the best teams in the state.
In losing 1-0 in eight innings to seven-time world champion Naples, Inverness may have awakened a few to the growing prowess of softball in Citrus County.
Topped only by Lecanto's Class 4A state softball championship last spring (helped a bit by the fact that nine-time state champion Naples High moved up to 5A), Inverness' run provided further proof that Citrus County is one of the state's softball hotbeds.
Many of the Inverness players will try to carry on the tradition as members of traveling teams, and at area high schools where they will help to solidify rosters.
Gina Reynolds (the coach's daughter and pitcher), Laura Helt (pitcher) and Kim Richards all played for the Citrus Hurricanes last year and should be joined by all-star teammate Melody Fedor (shortstop) on next year's varsity squad. Julie Hodson (leftfield), Holly Williamson (second base) and Kristin Neumann (pitcher) are slated to play for the junior varsity.
Jackie Christensen (catcher, first base) should make a nice addition for Lecanto, which lost veteran catcher Christina Huys to graduation, and Edie Poe (centerfield) will bring her big bat and quick legs to Crystal River.
Of those who remain, 13-year-old Gina Pepe (rightfield) may be the most promising, though as an incoming eighth-grader she is still a year removed from high school. Her speed and aggressive baserunning provided one of the few sparks in Inverness' last game, a 4-2 loss to Bloomingdale.
"The group we have in this county now is awful strong," Reynolds said. "If we get these under-18 and under-16 teams put together, maybe someone will come along and start an under-14 or under-12 team. That's why the high schools are so strong in Tampa and Naples; they start young."
Though seven of his girls ended their Little League careers this year, Reynolds would like to keep things going in National Softball Association and Amateur Softball Association events. Mike Hampton recently started an under-18 team, the Citrus County Squeeze, and Reynolds would like to form an under-16 team of his own.
Some already have experience. Reynolds' daughter Gina, along with Helt and Richards, were members of the Dade City Shooters team that currently is playing in the NSA World Series. And all three, along with Pepe, who plays for the under-14 Clearwater Bullets (another World Series qualifier), gave up the chance to play for an NSA title in order to pursue a Little League championship.
"I think we can be real competitive if we can get all the best girls in the county," Hampton said. "We've seen national teams and we can play with them. They had to play hard to beat us."