MAKE no mistake, Melissa Mullis’s confidence is unflinching.
The Jefferson softball coach expects victories. She expects the program to return to the state tournament.
“I’m trying to teach them that it’s an expectation to win,” Mullis said Thursday prior to a summer practice. “When we win, we don’t get excited. It is what it is.”
Mullis, back from a four-season hiatus as Jefferson’s coach, has some experience in that area.
She guided the Dragons to a 70-28 mark from 2004-2006, netting two region tiles, two trips to the state playoffs and a Class A finals appearance before stepping down after the 2006 season to prepare for the birth of her third child.
Now she’s resumed control of a program that went 22-9-1 in 2010 but hasn’t reached the state playoffs the past two seasons. And offseason obstacles – injuries and adversity – have already popped up, making for an interesting return for Mullis.
“Which is a good thing for it to happen now,” said Mullis, who took over for former coach Brad Puckett. “We’re either going to pull together and do well this season or we’re not. So it’s a good time to have some adversity and see what happens.”
Jefferson was slated to start tryouts this past Monday as its Aug. 12 season opener at the South Gwinnett tournament nears. The lineups won’t come into full focus until sometime after those conclude but there’s a general idea of what 2011 Dragons will look like based on summer workouts and around 20 varsity scrimmages.
For starters, Paige Pate and Jordyn Whitfield bring valuable senior experience to the middle infield.
“I look forward to great things from them,” Mullis said.
Elsewhere, Ashley Boyd is working at catcher; Leah Pryor could play in the middle infield and Megan Faulkner, an upcoming freshman, could “contribute in a major way” at third, but could also play middle infield. Cathryn Knight, who didn’t play much defensively last year, is seeing time at first. Morgan McKinney and Savannah Snapp will shoulder the Dragon pitching duties, while Pryor has some pitching experience, as does Jordan Phillips.
Jefferson is still developing its outfield. Lindsey Miles, Cason Anderson, Pryor and Kelly Davis have stood out over the summer, but Mullis looks forward to seeing if any other players step up in tryouts.
The coach said plenty of players have challenged projected starters, and Mullis is all for heated but healthy competition. The coach tells her players never to get too comfortable at their positions– not to scare them, but as a way to maximize each practice.
“You’ve got to put your best nine out there,” Mullis said. “But I want them to feel good about what they’re doing too, not scared. So it’s a delicate balance there.”
Meanwhile, Mullis said she’s loving her return to coaching and the family that the team is becoming. And if that atmosphere exists – one where players feel accountable to one another – those much-expected wins will follow.
“Our no. 1 goal is to become a team,” Mullis said. “I mean, seriously, (one) that values each other more than ourselves and learns how to overcome adversity without turning on one another and that’s by putting others before yourself. That’s my goal for them and I believe that it’s one of their goals, too. And with that, you get results. Winning takes care of itself.”