Name it and the Jefferson Dragon softball team probably experienced it last year.
The litany of injuries striking Jefferson players in 2009 included a torn knee, a shoulder injury, a season-ending foot surgery, mysterious foot swelling, pneumonia and a broken arm in a golf carting accident.
“My high school principal laughed and said it was like a MASH unit,” fourth-year Dragon coach Brad Puckett said.
Though the rash of injuries certainly hurt Jefferson last year, it has left the Dragons – who went 9-12 and missed the state playoffs -- with a roster chock full of players with varsity experience.
“Last year, we had so many injuries and we had to pull so many from the JV,” Puckett said. “We were pulling people from everywhere, but that experience was very valuable to them.”
A much healthier Jefferson team returns with a combined 10 starters between its different lineup configurations last year.
In fact, the Dragons have gone from banged-up to strong – literally — in 2010.
“As far as physical strength goes, this is probably one of the strongest teams physically that we’ve ever had,” Puckett said.
Leading the charge is senior third baseman-shortstop Summer Bartek, who’s perhaps the Dragons most vocal leader. Bartek is back after missing her entire junior season due to foot surgery and swung the hottest bat in offseason scrimmages.
Puckett also points to his pitching staff – senior Kara Perry and sophomore Morgan McKinney.
“We’ve got two very solid pitchers back who are doing an outstanding job,” Puckett said.
Meanwhile, players like sophomore Cathyn Knight demonstrated “tremendous power” during the summer, Puckett said. In fact, Jefferson has enough solid bats in the lineup that it will utilize two different lineups depending on who’s pitching.
When Perry is at the mound, senior Kasey McDonald will man first; junior Paige Pate, one of the strongest players on the team, will play second; McKinney, last year’s RBI leader, is at third; Bartek will play short; and junior Jordan Whitfield will be behind the plate.
When McKinney is pitching, Bartek will shift to third and Whitfield will move to shortstop.
In the outfield, Jefferson can pick from five sophomores who could potentially start: Tristan McGarity, Anna Alexander, Lindsey Miles, Knight and Cason Anderson.
Other players on the varsity include freshmen Ashley Boyd and Savannah Snapp.
Jefferson will need that wealth of experience to contend with a Region 8-AA Puckett calls “absolutely loaded.” The Dragons are also in a region with neighboring Jackson County and East Jackson, which should make things interesting.
“All of us being right here together, I know there’s probably a lot of anticipation about all three of us playing to say the least,” Puckett said.
Jefferson heads into this season having not won a region title since 2007 and missing the state playoffs last season for the first time in several years.
While the Dragons seek to make amends in both areas, their coach doesn’t want the team to get too far ahead of itself.
“All that stuff is well and good,” Puckett said. “But I ask these young ladies to come out here and play as hard as they can for one another in each and every moment. If we do that and we do it as hard as we can, the other stuff is going to fall where it will.”
Puckett wants to avoid clichés but stresses that the team’s goal is to not look to look ahead.
Whether it be incorporating Notre Dame’s motto “play like a champion today,” showing the halftime clip from “Friday Night Lights” or borrowing from John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, Puckett said he’s preaching accountability and focus to the team – not region title banners or getting back to state right now.
“If at the end of this year, we can walk off this field with no regrets, then that’s a job well done,” Puckett said.