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Winder softball to open season soon enough

POSTED: July 30, 2014 11:00 a.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

A member of the 2013 Lady Doggs heads home during the state tournament.

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After a long and restful summer, the Winder-Barrow Lady Bulldoggs softball team is ready to hit the dirt for what they hope will be a season to rival last season’s successful run to the state tournament in Columbus.

Before they can get on the field, though, the team has to be put finalized.

For that reason, the Lady Doggs are spending most of this week preparing for Friday’s tryouts. Even though tryouts are officially on Friday, the roster had already come together in a big way.

“We do most of our evaluation from May to June,” Winder-Barrow head varsity softball coach Monty McClure explained. 

Even though much of the team is already formed in McClure’s mind, there is still potential for the tryout period to be of importance to a few young women hoping to make a varsity squad.

“If there’s any question marks on whether or not these girls will make the team, we’ll make that decision during this time,” McClure explained. “It’s not too serious yet, and if anybody moved in over the summer then they’ll get a shot to make the team, so Friday me and my coaches will make decisions on girls and the team and then we’ll get ready for Friday night under the lights against Walnut Grove.”

With the preseason still in its infancy, Coach McClure has yet to see any real indications of where the team is as far as preparedness goes. Monday was largely used for field maintenance and Tuesday was 

“We’ve had two days,” McClure remarked. “We’re okay. A little rusty. We’ve had great participation, and we’ve had three or four girls go play nationals, so it’s been a good summer.”

Veterans Carlee Thurmond, McKenzy MacFarland and Anslee Johnson were three Lady Doggs who spend some time this summer in the tournament circuit, though they were just three of the many young women on the team who played for different travel teams.

Even though the team’s first week of practice leads up to tryouts mostly in schedule alone, these days still serve a vital purpose for McClure and his team.

“We use these days mostly to get back into softball mode. For these girls who maybe didn’t make it to nationals, they’ve been out of softball for a few weeks and I hope they’ve taken some time off. We just don’t want to go from Friday and seven days later playing a top five team in quad A.

“We’re going to take this to get our arms back, our swings back and get back in the mode for softball.”

McClure’s young women will need to get back into softball mode rather quickly, too, because they start playing just a few days after the finalized roster comes out with a contest at Walnut Grove on Aug. 8. 

Winder-Barrow already has quite a bit of experience against the Lady Warriors just across the way in Walton County, though, as the two teams played a significant number of games against each other in summer league play.

Although McClure frequently reaffirmed that many of his young women and many of Walnut Grove’s athletes were missing and that the teams playing in summer league were vastly different from the teams that would meet in the regular season, those prior experiences still hold some merit.

It’s just that those merits are a little different from most games.

“For me, non-region games are about playing well coached teams and also being able to compete against your friends who are coaches,” McClure explained. “Walnut Grove is a team that makes Columbus almost every year and I know Taylor Brooks, their head coach, does a good job, and me and him are friends.”

Since Walnut Grove meets both of McClure’s checkmarks, the opportunity to play them at the beginning of the season proved too good for both coaches to pass up.

“We get to open the season Friday night, under the lights at 8 p.m. varsity, 6 p.m. JV, and there will probably be a good crowd there and it’ll be a good environment,” McClure noted. “He’s got a good team.”

While there are of course some issues that will need to work themselves out over the start of the season, McClure also knows that his team comes into the new year with one advantage over some of the competition. With his team’s almost year-round involvement in softball, the conditioning period is almost non-existent.

“Most of our girls stay in shape now. Most of our girls want to be good, so their parents hold them accountable, which is a big thing,” McClure explained. “They don’t get much time off physically. They may not throw the ball or hit, but they’re doing something.

“So the main thing for us is mentally being ready to compete. Sometimes there’s a tough transition from travel ball to high school ball,” McClure specified.

With travel ball, McClure intimated, the teams are going to play back-to-back games day after day no matter what happens. Psychologically, it just feels different from high school ball where a team’s ultimate goal and their necessary approach is not the same as a travel ball team. 

For one, the young women who wear a Winder-Barrow uniform represent Winder-Barrow.

“High school softball, you’re representing your school. We want this to be a bigger deal as far as competing and every game matters, because our goal ultimately is to make state again. Every game matters, and if you’re not working to get better every game, then you’ve missed your chance,” McClure noted.

Part of why every game matters to McClure and to his staff, and why it should matter to each player on the field, is because of the seniors. The seniors have just one more shot at making the state playoffs and the state tournament, and he wants each and every young woman out there to work towards that goal.

“We try to preach that one day you’re going to be a senior. We’re going to ask juniors and sophomores and freshmen to lay it on the line for you, so we’re going to ask you to do the same for these seniors,” McClure mentioned.

Last year’s seniors, and much of this year’s team, had the chance to play in Columbus for the first time in school history. Now that the Lady Doggs know what that experience is like, McClure hopes it will push his team to only improve.

“Once you’ve tasted success, you want it again,” McClure said. “Anyone who has ever been to Columbus knows that it’s almost like nothing else is success. I don’t necessarily think that’s the case with every team…but who knows with our group. I think we’ll have a chance to compete against everyone we play.

“I don’t know if we’ll win those games, but as long as we get better,” McClure added.

He also said that he has seen some excitement from the team in regards to that potential shot at Columbus one more year.

To do that, the Lady Doggs will need to get through a difficult region schedule and a tough non-region schedule. Most of the non-region schedule is made up of the state’s best opponents in order to get Winder ready for a talented region slate, and especially the early part of the season.

Those games, McClure explained, are for getting a feel for what individual athletes will do in game situations as well as how the team as a whole can work together.

“The beginning of the season, we want to play tough opponents because we’re in a tough region. If we can play those games, it prepares us most for the games that matter most,” McClure said.

The Lady Doggs will open their region schedule Cedar Shoals on Aug. 26, but not until after they take a non-region exhibition game against Apalachee on Aug. 19.

“Our girls are friends with girls at Apalachee, and they’re friends with ours. I think one thing we’ve always had is a healthy competition between the schools. I think both schools respect each other. I know we respect Apalachee very much,” McClure noted. “They probably have one of the best pitchers in the region. I hear that Coach Allen is doing a good job.

“For us, we don’t really think about it being a new coach. You want bragging rights against your friends,” McClure added.

The two schools will meet for real on Sep. 4 at Winder-Barrow, and the region tournament will start Sep. 29 to determine which teams get to represent Region 8-AAAAA in the state playoffs and who will have a chance to grab one of eight spots in Columbus.

 

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