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Coach Allen and the Lady Cats get prepped for softball season

Leading off

POSTED: June 28, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

One Lady Wildcat runs into home after her teammate hit her in during Wednesday’s scrimmage.

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With the first day of school quickly approaching and the fall sports season just around the bend, Apalachee softball wasted no time in naming Matt Allen as the new head coach. In the first month of his tenure at the helm of the Lady Wildcats, Allen is already making waves and getting his team ready for the road ahead.

“We’ve gone through a month of working out every Monday night and every Tuesday, Wednesday morning, and we’ve had great participation and we’d like to see those numbers keep up during the month of July,” Apalachee’s first-year softball coach Matt Allen said. “These girls have kind of reinvigorated me as far as love of the game and my excitement for coaching high school softball.”

Although there is still a long way to go before Apalachee will be ready for their first game and for the long, taxing season ahead, Allen believes that the women will be ready in large part because of their work ethic.

“It’s always hard to tell from the workouts, but I do feel pretty good and pretty confident about one thing, and that’s that the girls are really taking what I’m throwing at them and running with it, and it’s like the more I give them, the more they want,” Allen stated exuberantly. 

Allen has also incorporated some admittedly more unusual workouts during the summer to help his team get ready. While people may balk at Allen’s idea of unconventional practices, he has also said from the beginning that he is all about working hard. With that in mind, his theory behind introducing these unique workouts is sound.

“It’s been really neat to have everybody buy into what you’re doing, and like I said, I’m doing some things that are probably not what they’re used to seeing since I know a lot of them are in club ball and summer ball and we’re trying to mix things up and keep it fresh…and they’re going and playing a lot of games and doing a lot of softball workouts, so I’m doing a lot of unconventional things,” Allen noted. 

The unconventional exercises Allen references focus more on visualization and mental preparation rather than the rote, physical activities most of the young women are taking part in with their club teams.

“We may go through a round where we’re training our eyes rather than working on our swing,” Allen explained. “Everyone wants to talk about how hand-eye coordination is key and hitting, and everybody seems to want to work on the hands, but nobody seems to want to work on the eyes.

“It doesn’t matter what I do with them, they’re really buying into it and enjoying it. The participation numbers speak for themselves.”

So far this summer, Allen has seen more than 20 young women consistently attending morning practices and workouts with others attending as frequently as they can.

With such great participation in the summer workouts, Coach Allen potentially faces a difficult situation come August when the devoted athletes have to be culled among varsity, JV and freshman teams.

“Well it’s going to make it difficult from a varsity standpoint, but from the younger levels, and apparently I’ve inherited a program that’s very young, it’s going to make it easier for me on the younger levels because I generally like to keep as many players as I can in the program at the younger levels,” Allen elaborated. “If we have numbers that that warrant filling a JV team and a freshman team, great. That’s what we’ll do.

“As far as the varsity standpoint, that’s going to make things rather difficult because I haven’t seen them play in live game situations yet, but that’ll come as we start doing inter-squad scrimmages. From what I can see, it’s going to be very difficult trimming the varsity down to a workable number because we’ve got a lot of girls that have shown some ability swinging the bat, they’ve shown some ability with their athleticism and with the glove and the arm. There’s a lot of talent there and a high softball IQ,” Allen added.

Bringing a rested team into August is a top priority for Allen in his first season with the Lady Wildcats, as he knows that worn down team may not last as long in the season. 

“I think the way we have softball set up in Georgia is kind of a double-edged sword. When you start high school ball in August, your girls are pretty much game ready. They’ve played all spring and summer long, and you really don’t have to go through as much of the adjustment you do with baseball,” Allen explained. 

Though many of the future Lady Wildcats are taking part in summer games with travel or club teams, Allen is actually glad that he can put some people on the varsity roster who are not playing summer ball.

“On the flipside of that, you do have to find a balance on your team between those girls who have played all summer and maybe are a little bit tired and try to be sensitive to their needs, especially with their arms…and you have some of the girls in your program who have not played all summer long. Those girls can bring some fire and intensity and energy to the team as the season gets started. They may not be as tired,” Allen noted. “I think any good team needs a balance between those types of girls.”

Another key balance Allen seeks for his team is the balance between summer preparation and season growth, as he does not want his Lady Wildcats participating in summer games as the Lady Wildcats for a very particular reason. 

“To me, a team that improves as the season goes along and is at their best at the end of the season is a dangerous team come playoff time,” Allen explained. “You’re always concerned about a team peaking too soon, and I don’t want to necessarily have a team that has already played through the game situations...and has everything ready to go day one, and there’s no room for improvement.”

After all of the theory and all of the preparation is done, though, Allen knows that sometimes, the best thing he can do is just get out of the way.

“In the end, the best thing to do is find where my coaching style and expectations of what a team should look like…and figuring out a balance with what these girls can bring to the table in a game situation. It’s one thing to say you want to run and play small ball and put pressure on the opponent with your speed, but it’s another for the girls to go out there and execute what you’re trying to do,” Allen admitted.

“That’s going to be the biggest challenge for me to match the talent I have with game awareness and game readiness, and having that match up with the way I want to play.”

With all of the work Coach Allen and the ladies are putting in this summer and with everything he hopes the Lady Wildcats will accomplish this fall, Allen is already eager to get the workouts and the batting practices over with. Although his team is probably not looking forward to the first day of school on August 1 so much, Coach Allen is eager and excited for the new season to begin.

“Quite frankly, I’m ready for August 4 to get here so we can turn the lights on and get going,” Allen noted while heaping high praise on his new team. “I’ve been in some good situations and coached some very good players, but I don’t know if I’ve ever had players who have bought in to what I’m doing at such a high level and who have done it so quickly.

“I just couldn’t ask for anything more.”

 

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