At the beginning of the season, something was missing for the Archbishop Ryan softball team.
Practices were especially rough, and even with the Ragdolls trying their best, Nikki Michalowski said, things weren't the same.
The first indication that things are still different appears in the form of a white circle with the letters "AH" embroidered in black on Ryan's jerseys.
Its placement right above the heart of each member of the Ragdolls says a lot about the man the team is playing for this season.
Longtime Ryan coach Andy Hafele died in February after a battle with cancer. Ever since, Ryan has been honoring Hafele the best way it knows how - by winning.
The Ragdolls (17-2) finished 12-0 in the Catholic League, defeating three of the conference's toughest squads - Lansdale Catholic, Conwell-Egan, and Cardinal O'Hara - over three days last week. It was a statement streak, one that earned the Ragdolls the top seed in the league playoffs.
"No one expected us to be this good," said Michalowski, a senior pitcher. "It is just more motivation for the playoffs."
For Ryan, it all begins with the dangerous combination of Michalowski and junior Kerri Dadalski in the circle. Both throw hard but put different movement on the ball and rely on different pitches. For Michalowski, the screwball does a lot of the heavy lifting; Dadalski favors the curve.
But it isn't just on the mound that the one-two punch of Michalowski and Dadalski can be felt. Both are dynamic hitters. Michalowski usually bats second, and Dadalski hits cleanup. When Michalowski is pitching, Dadalski is playing short. Vice versa when Dadalski is on the mound.
"I know we have each other's back," said Michalowski, a Hofstra recruit. "If she is struggling, I help her out. If I'm struggling, she helps me out."
Before each game, the Ragdolls form a circle around Hafele's Mass card and pray. Dadalski and Michalowski emphasized how meaningful it is for the team to have Hafele's widow, Maryellen, come to their games and talk to them.
Things still aren't the same for Ryan without Hafele, but the team has a renewed focus.