Lisa Robinson is happy to see what she now sees on a daily basis as Jackson County’s head softball coach — a full practice field.
Back in 2007 when Jackson County split to form East Jackson, the Panther softball program was left with only 12 players that season.
Three years later, the program — coming off a 16-15-1 campaign and an appearance in the state tournament — is 23 players strong, thanks to a good crop of players rising through the ranks since the school split.
“We’re finally building some momentum … ,” said Robinson, entering her second season as head coach and fourth overall at JCCHS said. “It’s just a matter of those (players) coming up through the program. It’s not me. It’s not the program necessarily. It’s just the right time.”
A re-emerging Jackson County program opens with rival Jefferson at home Tuesday at 5:55 p.m.
Nearly the entire roster — including all starters — is still intact from last year’s team that pushed an opening round state tournament series against St. Pius X to three games.
For the first time since Robinson has been on staff, the team has two “true seniors” with Brooke Griggs returning at shortstop and Jessica Laird back in the outfield.
“They’ve gone all the way through the program,” Robinson said.
The team has other leaders, too, as it looks to build on last year’s return to the state tournament.
Junior third baseman Ashley Lance and junior pitcher Haley Shinall — who has the potential to be a dominating hurler, Robinson said — are standouts on this team, as is power-hitting sophomore catcher Madison Whitmire, who’s already attracting interest from several Division I schools.
“So I’m expecting a lot out of her,” Robinson said.
The same goes for Victoria Fontana, who returns to the outfield as a sophomore.
Jackson County is still sorting out the depth chart, but others expected to start this year are sophomore Andrea Ledford (first base), Haley Davis (second base) and junior Macey Latty (outfield).
Freshman Kortnee Satterfield is the squad’s other pitcher. She doesn’t have the speed of Shinall but has demonstrated good consistency, Robinson said.
Though the season starts Tuesday, several of Jackson County’s players have played their share of softball recently.
Whitmire spent last week in Texas playing in a national tournament, while Shinall and Griggs played in a national tournament in Kentucky earlier this summer. Eight of the incoming freshmen also played in the 14-and-under Dizzy Dean softball world series in Mississippi in July. Another played in a tournament in Panama City.
“This year we have more girls playing travel ball, too,” Robinson said. “So that’s helping the year-round play.”
That hope is that a busy offseason has kept them sharp for what should be a compelling season locally.
Jackson County joins a region — 8-AA — with nearby Jefferson and East Jackson. Even though the Panthers were in a different region prior to this year, Robinson found it odd that Jefferson or East Jackson didn’t appear on past schedules.
That changes this year, though.
“I think it’s good for our county to have that type of rivalry,” Robinson said. “I think it’s good for the turnout for our games. It’s good for our community.”
While the year will be plenty challenging — especially in Region 8-AA — Robinson hopes it’s a season that doesn’t end until October in Columbus, the site of the final three rounds of the state tournament.
For a program that had just 12 players three years ago, it is now has big-time goals.
“This year, we’re set on trying to get to Columbus,” Robinson said. “Last year, we made it pretty far, and this year we really feel we have the potential to carry this thing as far as we think it can go.”