By Randy Whalen
For the Bugle
The last time a new softball coach took over the Downers Grove South program, the Mustangs won a state title. That was Ron Havelka in 1993.
So welcome to the expectations of Downers Grove South softball to new head coach — Lauren Berg.
“He [good-naturally] told me that he won the state title his first year and told me there’s a lot of pressure,” Berg said of the advice she received from Havelka. “But I’m only the third coach in Downers Grove South history.”
Gretchen (Doss) Sauer was the first coach from 1973-1992.
Being in the program the past three seasons, Berg already knows the expectations and how high the bar has been set.
“I’m so excited,” Berg said. “I still have our amazing award winning staff [NFCA High School National Coaching Staff of the Year in 2016] and I value their experience. Just coaching under Ron and the legacy he’s left us. He was so invested in his players, he wanted them to succeed on and off the field.”
All Havelka did in his 24 years as head coach was have a career record of 704-169-4, win at least 22 games in 23 of those seasons, capture 16 regional titles, seven sectional titles, and bring home four state trophies — including the Class AA state championship in his first season in 1993 and a Class 4A third place trophy last spring.
Havelka is glad to see Berg take over the reigns for the Mustangs.
“She’s got a passion for the game and is very enthusiastic,” he said. “She’s very genuine, she’s a very good person and a good role model. She’s excited about it and she should be. We had some key people graduate from last years team, but this is an opportunity for her to run her own team. She’ll do a good job.”
Berg is no stranger to being in ultra competitive situations.
“I came from a very competitive family,” Berg said. “I have two older brothers, Pat and Ryan Morita, and we were always competitive in board games and everything.”
Berg, whose maiden name was Morita, is a 2005 Lockport Township graduate and she played softball for the Porters. She and her husband, Michael, still live in Lockport.
An attention to detail was something that was instilled in Berg at Lockport. While she played basketball her freshman and sophomore seasons, and tennis her first three years, it was softball that she loved. Even if she didn’t star at it.
“I was a role player,” she said of her time with the Porters. “So I had to watch the other players and learn from observing. I think that’s something I can use [as a coach] because I understand role players. I was consistently behind other players, but I wanted their position as much or more than them.”
As a junior, Berg was a member of the 2004 Class AA state champion Porter softball team. Her backup role was personified in her stats for that season. She appeared in 35 games, but mostly as a pinch runner or defensive replacement. She scored more runs that season (13) than she had at bats (12).
As a senior in 2005 she had a similar role, but got some starts in right field, in helping the Porters to a Class AA state quarterfinal appearance.
“Even though I was not a regular starter I was named one of (4) the team captains my senior year,” Berg said. “The coaches at Lockport were my absolute favorites. I love how coach [Marissa] Chovanec runs her practice. Every player has a purpose.”
Berg’s high school coach is very happy that a former player is now taking over as a coach of another top program.
“I am excited that Lauren is taking over the program,” Chovanec said. “Ron did a great job establishing Downers Grove South as a perennially great softball program. I believe Lauren understands the importance of the coaches that have come before her in a program, like Downers, since she too was a product of a similar program here at Lockport.
“Lockport has had only two head coaches in its history of softball. I feel like Downers mirrors Lockport in so many ways. I believe Lauren will build on Ron’s legacy. Lauren has the passion for the sport, the knowledge of the game, the understanding of its players and excitement needed to carry on the legacy of Downers Grove softball. Lauren will bring her own experience to create a culture based on her standards but will recognize the past and celebrate its traditions too.”
Following high school Berg attended Millikin University in Decatur, IL where she started every game of her career in center field and served as team captain her final three seasons. During her collegiate career, she earned All-Conference and Academic All-Conference recognition in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW).
She graduated from Millikin in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education in social sciences. During the winter of 2015, she received her first master’s degree in Teaching and Learning with a concentration in Special Education from the University of Saint Francis in Joliet. She is currently pursuing her second master’s degree in Teaching and Learning with a concentration in Integrated Curriculum from American College of Education.
Once she graduated from Millikan she served as assistant varsity and head junior varsity coach in softball, girls’ tennis and girls’ basketball at Bloomington High School, Illinois. Prior to her career at Bloomington, Berg coached two years for an 18/under summer softball team, the Homer Hawks from Homer Glen. Additionally, she served as a softball assistant coach at Bloomington Junior High School (IL) in the fall of 2010 and helped lead the team to a second place finish in the Illinois Elementary School Association [IESA] state tournament.
Berg came to Downers Grove South in the fall of 2013 and is a social studies teacher at the school. Last season she served as assistant varsity coach and before that was head junior varsity coach for two years there.
“Our team is developing a new identity based on the tradition of our past successes,” Berg said. “We are working hard to be explosive and relentless. This team is one of the hardest working teams that I have ever coached. We have girls that truly want to work hard and to the best of their abilities. Our strength will be our experience from previous seasons of being in big games and under pressure, especially during our post season runs.”
While there were quite a few key players that graduated from last seasons Mustang team that finished 36-4 overall enroute to their third place state finish, there’s still a fair amount of returners.
Those include junior third baseman Rebecca Bluder, junior outfielder Lindsey Herrmann, sophomore utility player Randi McKay — who has verbally committed to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, junior infielder Kara McKenna, senior pitcher/outfielder Morgan Meyer, along with senior catchers Maddison Paladino and Jori Tyler.
Top newcomers include senior outfielder Cara Dwan, sophomore infielder/catcher Maggie Greco, junior catcher Sarah Major, and junior infielder/outfielder Lindsay Valero.
“We will also be adding some new speed to our unit,” Berg said. “We are continuing to work to improve on our defense position players and creating an identity with our relatively new pitching staff. We will be traveling to Tennessee for our spring break [from Wednesday, March 29 – Saturday, April 1].
“Our realistic goals is to play explosive and relentless Mustang Softball. We have a goal to win conference and make it far in the state tournament.”