The three local teams (Calhoun, Gordon Central, Sonoraville) all enter the 2012 season with hopes of making last season a distant memory.
None of the three local squads qualified for the state playoffs in 2011, adding more fuel to the fire for each as practice opened a few weeks ago and the season gets going soon.
Diane Smith returns to coach her 27th year at Calhoun, Brian Little is back for his third at Gordon Central and Sonoraville welcomes new coach Chad Hayes who takes over for Carissa Roustan who took the same job at Roswell High over the summer.
Sonoraville and Gordon Central will be playing in a new region this season as they move to Region 5-AAA while Calhoun remains in Region 7-AA.
Here’s a little info on what to expect this season from each of the three teams:
Calhoun Lady Jackets
Calhoun returns to the field with several of the key contributors from last year’s squad that narrowly missed the state playoffs after being defeated by Rockmart in the Region 7-AA Tournament.
With going to the state playoffs being such a routine thing over the past several years, Smith said her team is chomping at the bit to get back out there and redeem themselves from last year’s early end to the season.
“Of course we expected to go further than the region tournament,” said Smith. “That left a bad taste in our mouth, so we’re ready to go, and I’m excited about this team.”
The Lady Jackets lost four seniors from last year’s team, including Calhoun Times and Rome News-Tribune Co-Player of the Year Danielle Phillips. Along with her, solid contributors Morgan Stewart, Shyanne Dobson and Morgan Hill were lost to graduation. Still, Smith said she thinks the girls this year will fill in those roles nicely.
Several of the key players for this year’s team will be catcher Shanta McDaniel, third baseman Carly Curtis, pitcher Alyssa Shawgo, shortstop Taylor Kelly and first baseman Bree Walraven.
Smith said her team’s biggest focus this season will be to play fundamental softball on offense and defense.
“We want to make the routine plays on defense, and that’s something we work on every day so the girls get a lot of reps,” said Smith. “On offense, we’ve got some girls who have some speed and some that can hit for power. We’re going to mix it up by playing some long ball and small ball.”
Smith said she has high expectations for this team and is continuing to be a positive voice for her players to listen to.
“I believe in these girls, and I want them to believe in theirselves,” said Smith. “Our ultimate goal is to win a state title, but right now we’re focusing on one game at a time. We want to finish the regular season as the No. 1 team going in the region tournament, and from there we want to make it to Columbus (for the Elite Eight).”
One storyline to follow this season will be Smith’s pursuit of her 500th career win as a softball coach. She currently sits at 488 combined between slow pitch and fast pitch as she enters the season.
Calhoun opens up the regular season on Wednesday when they will play Paulding County and Kennesaw Mountain in the first round of the Kennesaw Mountain Tournament.
Sonoraville Lady Phoenix
The Lady Phoenix went to the playoffs in 2009, but in the two seasons since have yet to get back to that level.
New head coach Chad Hayes and his team hope to change that this year.
Coming off an 11-18 campaign in 2011, Sonoraville is looking for consistency and a bounceback year.
“Last season left a bad taste in the mouths of the girls,” said Hayes. “They knew they were capable of much more than they accomplished, and I think it has served to motivate them thus far leading up to the season.
“We certainly have the talent to do some big things, and the seniors are really stepping up and leading to make sure there is not a let down like last year.”
The team only lost one senior from last year’s team, so there is a wealth of experience back for Hayes to use. Senior catcher Eady Beth Connally and senior shortstop Morgan Allen will be key pieces to the puzzle, as well as pitchers Emily Pruitt (Jr.) and Lily Hayes (So.) and center fielder Alisha Bridges (Sr.).
Hayes said that despite it being his first year as head coach, he does know the girls from being an assistant last season as well as coaching other sports and being involved at Sonoraville.
“I have known many of these girls since they were 11 or 12 year olds playing travel ball and now as students/players here at the high school,” said Hayes. “There is certainly a comfort level there that most new coaches would not have. I know their strengths and weaknesses. The familiarity is definitely a plus.”
Hayes said that he believes the new region (5-AAA) is probably one of the best softball regions in the state, and that if you don’t come to play a certain day, the results will not be good. But the Lady Phoenix are focusing more on themselves as they get ready to open up play in 2012 as they expect to compete for a region title and to get back to the state playoffs.
“The most crucial part of success for our team this year is having the seniors step up and lead through adversity,” said Hayes. “Adversity comes in any sport and how you get through it often determines your ultimate success. We did not handle some things well last year and the chemistry just wasn’t right. We have had a solid off season and summer and the chemistry seems to be there. We have players who love the game and play it well, it is now just a matter of coming together as a singular unit with a singular focus.”
The Lady Phoenix open play this weekend in the Lady Devils Fall Classic at Alto Park in Rome. They will then visit rival Gordon Central on Tuesday to open region play.
Gordon Central Lady Warriors
The Lady Warriors are coming off a 12-13 season which was highlighted by their first-ever win over rival Calhoun.
With only two seniors lost from that squad (Marisa Miller and Maura Piacenza), coach Brian Little is expecting his team to take another step this year with the amount of talent he has coming back.
“It’s always good to see players with experience back,” said Little. “We have a total of seven seniors, and several of those are in key positions on the field while the others will contribute as well. Having those girls are invaluable, and they will definitely be who we build around.”
Pitcher Maci Mills, catcher Taylor Wells and center fielder Diana Hernandez are three of those key seniors. Junior shortstop Ashley Farrell and junior third baseman Shawnda Martin will also be relied on heavily.
Little said his team has had one big focus at preseason practice the last few weeks.
“One thing that kind of carried over from last year that we are trying to get right is to be able to put a complete game together,” said Little. “Last year, we always seemed to have one or two bad innings and that was our down fall. Without those few bad innings, our season would’ve been totally different.
“Our motto this year is to do the little things to make the big things happen. And that means don’t get down if something doesn’t go our way. Always keep our heads up and support each other.”
The Lady Warriors will see some new teams this season along with some familiar foes in their new region. Little said right now, it’s tough to say what’s going to happen with the new mix in the region, but that’s not what his team is focusing on in 2012.
“The biggest thing for me is that I want the girls to have fun,” said Little. “For the seniors, I want them to understand that it’s their last year, and I want them to have a good year and enjoy it.”
The Lady Warriors opened up the season at the Lady Devils Fall Classic this weekend at Alto Park in Rome. They will have their region opener on Tuesday when they host county rival Sonoraville.