COMING OFF a 23-17-1 season and a trip to the Elite 8, expectations for Jackson County Comprehensive High School softball are soaring, however, head coach Chessie Laird is intent on the Panthers not getting too far ahead of themselves.
“I definitely think that maybe school wide and community wide, the expectations of us going back to Columbus are high,” Laird said. “At the same time we are focusing on getting through our region, because I feel like it’s going to be very close this year.”
In a staunchly competitive region 8-AAA, the Panthers will have to contend with Morgan County, Franklin County and Oconee County – all three of which have combined themselves to be top-tier programs, posting a combined record of 59-42 in 2012.
“We want to focus on what’s going on in the regular season so we don’t get caught off guard in preparing for the future instead of the next game,” added Laird.
With a tough road ahead, Laird has been preparing and conditioning her squad during the off-season. Between lifting weights and optional practices in June, and playing in the Franklin County league in July, the Panthers have racked up loads of experience this summer. Many Jackson County players also recently attended a softball camp at North Georgia College.
The Panthers will also have four returning seniors for the 2013 season, including: Kaley Tanner, Jordan Evans, Mason Garland and Victoria Woods. Add to that an experienced junior class and you have an equation for a tested Panther team.
“We have a big core of juniors,” Laird said. “We may not have many seniors, but we are still going to be very experienced. A lot of the girls who will be starters this year have varsity game experience. We are getting to be a veteran group.”
Laird also noted that she had massive numbers in attendance during summer practices and workouts. The Panthers have averaged around 33 players – 11 of which are upcoming freshman – participating during the summer off-season.
“(Summer) seems to be going pretty well,” Laird said. “We’ve had a huge group of girls coming out this summer to work out. I’ve been impressed with our numbers all summer. We’ve also been excited to have our freshman come up and participate in games and practices and see what they have to offer us. As far as building a program, the dedication we’ve had this summer is huge for us.”
The Panthers open up their 2013 season with much on the line, as they host region opponent Morgan County on Aug. 13.
“Opening up against Morgan County is going to be a key game for us,” said Laird. “It will be a time to sort of feel the region out and see how things will go. Our hopes are high that we will have a very good season. If it happens that we make it back to Columbus (Elite 8), that would be fantastic.”