THIS year’s Jackson County softball team certainly isn’t afraid of expectations.
At a recent team barbeque, the Panthers ironed out a set of team goals, one of which included a run to the Class AA Elite Eight in Columbus in October.
“That’s what they wanted and that’s what they set … their determination to do this is higher than anything,” first-year coach Chessie Laird said. “So they’re really pushing for that.”
The Panthers enter this year returning several members off a 16-11-2 squad last year that missed the state tournament by one game. Because of that returning cast, Laird said hopes are definitely high for a breakthrough year in 2011.
“They’ve really taken stock in what we’re doing and really have their eyes set on October and really hoping that great things are going to happen to us in October,” Laird said. “I think as long as they keep up the hard work and effort that they have going we’ll end up there.”
Jackson County welcomes back both its pitchers — senior Haley Shinall and sophomore Kortnee Satterfield — and its second-team all-state catcher, junior Madison Whitmire. Also back is leadoff hitter Macey Latty, a senior outfielder, as well as junior outfielder Victoria Fontana. Other seniors include Kesley Turner, Drake Vissering and Ashleigh Lance.
“We have a good group of seniors leadership-wise,” Laird said.
The team also welcomes nine freshman, including Jessica Baker “who has really stepped up for us,” Laird said.
Of course, a key for any deep run is depth and Laird believes she has that with a team that started the week with 28 players. In fact, Laird noted the assorted combinations she played in summer scrimmages with these numbers.
“When we’ve played summer games, we’ve tried to switch out seven and eight first and third basemen,” Laird said.
But that’s a good problem to have.
“It’s a great problem to have,” she said. “I’m definitely not complaining.”
In fact, the coach noted that she could “probably make up six or seven different lineups and still be very competitive, so it’s a very good situation to be in,” Laird said.
Laird — who played basketball and softball at Jefferson from 1999 to 2003 and then basketball at Brenau — is transitioning to high school ball after a successful three-year run at West Jackson Middle School where she compiled a 36-6 record and won one Quad County League title. She coached much of the current Jackson County roster during that stint. Now she reunites with her former players.
Though this is her first year, Laird said she’s coming into a great situation with support from everyone, including Jackson County’s new principal, Scott Smith, and athletic director, Jason Holcombe.
“They’ve been great to step in and meet me and lend any hand that I need,” Laird said. “So it’s been a really smooth transition, I think, from the girls having a great attitude and working hard everyday and the parents and, of course, the administration. It’s not a hard job when you have everyone supporting you right now.”