Area Sports...

AUGUST 4, 2004

Softball starts season Tuesday
Armed with a new coach and eleven returning players, the Banks County Lady Leopard softball teams will start play on Tuesday, August 10 against Athens Christian.
Mike Williams, Banks County Athletic Director and former Diamond Leopard head coach, is head coach of the varsity softball team. He recorded 93 wins over the past 10 years as the Diamond Leopard head coach. Williams has also coached high school football, high school boys basketball, middle school football and middle school girls and boys basketball. Two years ago he was the assistant coach for the varsity softball team and three years ago, when the program began, he coached junior varsity fast-pitch softball.
Kim Standridge is coaching the junior varsity team and Teresa Shubert is assistant coach.
Goals for 2004
“Obviously, we want to compete for the region championship,” Williams said about his goals for 2004. “We want to compete at a high level.”
Eleven returning players add leadership and experience to a young team that has only one senior on the roster. Brittany Harns, Kayla Dodd, Brooke Whitmire, Hannah White, Rachel Walker, Brandy Stapp, Hope Autry, Kayla Sims, Kayla Parks, Gabbie Fleming and Nikki Redmon are all returning for 2004.
Nicole Powell, the all-American short stop, will be missed. Powell graduated in May.
The biggest challenge facing the 2004 Lady Leopard softball team will be keeping a good attitude and playing as a team, Williams said.
“I am pleased with the effort and the attitude from the girls,” Williams said. “The chemistry is better than it was and things are coming together.”
The varsity team ended 2003 with an 8-18 record. He said the best performance in 2003 was the second place finish in the Flowery Branch Tournament.
“It’s hard to say right now who will have the biggest impact, I expect everyone to contribute to the team in some way,” Williams said.
He said the teams biggest strength is defense, the biggest weakness is offensive production.


CHS Runners Hit The Trail
Tiger Cross Country Team Opens First Week Of Workouts
Commerce cross country coach Mark Hale isn’t sure what kind of numbers his team will put up as far as times go this fall but he is happy about one number already — 11.
That’s how many runners showed up for the first day of workouts Monday.
“It’s really early right now but I’m encouraged by the numbers,” Tiger cross country coach Mark Hale said. “But I really don’t know what we’ll do. I’ll know a lot better in about two weeks.”
Commerce is holding 7 a.m. workouts through the rest of this week as it prepares for the season opener which will likely be in the first week in September.
The season schedule has yet to be finalized.
Whenever the team does run, senior Gary Saxon will be the one headlining the squad as he’s on the short list of the region’s top runners this year, placing third in 8-A last season as a junior.
This is the season the distance running standout has been waiting for according to Hale.
“It’s his senior year,” Hale said. “This is the year for him to do something. He’s the one I feel really good about right now. Everyone else right now is just proving they can do it.”
Besides Saxon, the Commerce boys return experience with Joel Montez, B.G. Sanders and Scott Kijawa. Sanders had a “good freshman year last year” according to Hale while saying that Montez “had some good meets” last year.
Rounding out the boys’ line up is Lee Headly, who has distance running experience in competition in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races for the Commerce track team, Dustin Neese, Wes Lewis, Wynn Blair, Quinten Vultaggio and Rolland Mattox.
The team has one female runner, Jennifer Goodner.


A few faces have changed, but Lady Panther expectations remain the same
Some of the faces may have changed, but when the Lady Panthers take on Apalachee this Tuesday to start the fast-pitch softball season, their season goals will remain the same.
Winning the region and making the state tournament are, like they have been in previous years, once again the expectations head coach Mark Mahoney’s team will have when they hit the diamond this season.
Despite the loss of a talented crop of five seniors departing from last year’s state tournament squad, the Lady Panthers have once again set their usual preseason goals, but then again with the success the program has seen since it’s beginning three years ago, winning is simply a way of life at Jackson County.
Jackson County went 23-6 in 2003, a mark that saw the squad reel off 17-straight wins at one point and amass a 9-1 region record that enabled the Lady Panthers to repeat as co-subregion champions.
While those impressive results will be hard to repeat, Mahoney is confident in the nucleus of players he has returning this season, he said. And, the hopes of duplicating that type of success certainly will be a motivator for this year’s squad.
“(It) was the most successful season in school history,” Mahoney said of the 2003 squad’s year, adding that the 17-game winning streak and winning the Lanier Land Tournament title were his favorite highlights.
But this is a new year for Jackson County fast-pitch, one that will likely mean the start of a new era at the school.
Six new freshman will adorn Mahoney’s roster this season, with another six faces only in their second season of high school play. The core of the team will reside in a trio of seniors and a trio of juniors, but their play will most certainly have to be complimented by some of the young talent that has been waiting their turn for a chance to shine.
Mahoney said he expects returning starters Kayla McNeal (senior, second baseman), Lauren Mize (senior, shortstop), and Jessica Schwartz (senior, third baseman/left fielder) to take over leadership rolls left open by the likes of Krista Bess, Brandi Townsend, and Haley Freeman from 2003.
Two of the biggest shoes left open to fill this year will be taken over by some young talent. Sophomore Brooke Hughes will be called upon to fill Bess’ spot at catcher and freshman Hailey Leissner and sophomore Katie Patton are expected to take over Townsend’s spot on the mound. Because Bess left JCCHS as the best offensive player in school history, and Townsend likewise at the pitching position, filling their spots will not be easy.
Add to that the fact that those two positions are arguably the most important to any team’s success in fast-pitch, and it’s clear that the challenge ahead for those youngsters is a stiff one.
But, according to Mahoney, his up-and-coming talent is up to the challenge.
Pitching and defense should be the team’s strengths this year, according to the Lady Panther skipper, with hitting and finding some team unity among the weaknesses he predicted the team will have to improve upon.
The off season has seen McNeal rise to the occasion and fill the role of team leader, Mahoney said, while Hughes has made solid strides at the plate and has become more confident.
Seven of the nine starting spots are still up for grabs before Tuesday’s opener at Apalachee, a fact that shows depth should not be a problem for the 2004 squad.


Building a solid foundation
Inaugural season of Lady Dragon fast-pitch softball begins Monday
The Jefferson fast-pitch team do more than just take the field Monday when they travel to Clarke Central, they’ll be forming a new tradition. For years the Lady Dragons have fielded one of the more successful slow-pitch softball programs in the state, but Monday’s game marks the beginning of a new era.
With an ever dwindling number of teams left still playing the slow-pitch game in Georgia, Jefferson opted to scrap the sport in favor of fast-pitch last year.
And while the subtle differences between the two games will present plenty of obstacles for Jefferson in their inaugural season, the program’s new head coach Melissa Mullis said she has seen nothing but positive signs so far that point toward the possibility for success.
“I think we’re going to do fine,” Mullis, who was hired in February after serving as a three-year assistant coach at Madison County, said. “I’m excited, I really am.”
Since holding tryouts July 26 Jefferson has been working hard, Mullis said, mainly at trying to get to know one another and develop some cohesiveness as a program and team.
Although she is beginning her first season as a head fast-pitch coach, Mullis’ experience with the game is extensive. After playing four years in college, first at McNeese St. and later at LSU, Mullis then was a graduate assistant at the University of Georgia before moving on to Madison County.
The knowledge she gained of teams in the Georgia High School Association while at Madison County should prove to be especially beneficial this season with a first-year squad under her tutelage. The Lady Raiders won 82 games during Mullis’ stint under head coach Doug Kesler. They advanced to at least the Elite Eight of the Class AAAA state tournament twice, while making a state sectional appearance in the other season she was in Danielsville. In 2001, the squad advanced all the way to the state finals and finished as the Class AAAA state runners-up.
Beyond that coaching experience, her college playing years should also enable her to lend plenty of expertise to her new players this season. Mullis, who pitched in college, will no doubt be able to offer her team plenty of knowledge about how to deal with the obvious differences that are most apparent at her former position.
Unlike many of the slower, lofty pitches Jefferson players have been used to in the past, the faster underhand variety of balls headed at them while at the plate this season should prove to be challenging. In fact considering that position is arguably the most important on the field in fast-pitch, Mullis’ ability to develop solid arms could go a long way toward laying the groundwork for success with the Lady Dragons.
But more than anything this preseason, Mullis said she has been focusing on building team unity — something she says is vital to any success. With that core, she then hopes to work on the fundamentals and skills that the squad will need in the future. But, having the players believe in her system will be what needs to come first, she said.
“I’m going to teach them what they need to know and I think them buying into what I’m teaching is important,” she said. “I believe in time they will be able to trust me, but I think we’re both trying to get to know each other now and I’m trying to get them to trust me.”
With a roster of 12 varsity players, the Lady Dragons are not especially deep this season, however Mullis was excited about the future because of a solid core of seven eighth graders that she hopes to develop over time.
Some of the more experienced players from the slow-pitch years included on this year’s roster are senior shortstop Brittany Caudell, junior second baseman Breanna Bray, and senior center fielder Kristina Friedman. Each were an integral part of the success the Lady Dragons had last year in slow-pitch.
Basically though, because the program is in its first year the door is wide open for players to step up and perform, according to Mullis.
“Everyone has an opportunity to make an impact in our system this year,” she explained. “It will take everyone to compete and be successful.”


Getting acquainted
MCHS players getting used to new football coach, vice versa
The comparison between parenting and coaching has gotten its share of mileage.
But first-year Raider head coach Randell Owens has a new take on the cliché as he’s been getting to know 80 new players on the practice field this summer in a brand-new job.
“It’s kind of like being a step father,” Owens said. “It’s really hard on the seniors. They committed and bought into a system and then daddy left and here comes this new guy.”
Since being on the job full-time since June, Owens has been that ‘new guy’ this summer to the Raider players who are adapting to the new coach’s methods.
Most of the Raiders had been used to life under Tom Hybl’s system – some since the middle school stages — as the ex-Madison County coach walked the sidelines in Danielsville for six years before leaving to take the Pierce County head coaching job. Owens said he understands that it’s not easy for a player to just bounce from one way of doing things to someone else’s at the blow of a whistle.
That’s why the implementation of change is something the new coach said he’s been trying to do carefully as the season opener nears.
“We’ve tried, in transition, to be sensitive to that,” Owens said. “... And the changes we’ve made, we’ve tried to make them positive things. Everybody’s been working hard and working hard at it,”
For the rest of this story see this weeks Madison County Journal.

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