New­ton, Al­covy need a fresh start in 2011

The Covington News - - Sports - Josh Briggs jbriggs@cov­

As the sum­mer en­ters its fi­nal few weeks for the lo­cal high schools, the fall prep sports are right around the cor­ner. Foot­ball, cross coun­try, soft­ball and vol­ley­ball be­gin less than two weeks af­ter school starts, which is Au­gust 4. With that said, it's never too early to talk about a few things be­fore we get into pre­view­ing the sea­sons.

This will be a big year for both Al­coy and New­ton soft­ball. It's safe say based on the way last sea­son went for both teams. The Lady Tigers and Rams took a step back in 2010 and will both be look­ing to erase their sea­sons of in­con­sis­tency. Nei­ther team met their ex­pec­ta­tions in 2010 and much of that can be at­trib­uted to both team's se­nior classes.

Af­ter an 11-18 sea­son, New­ton looks to turn the page on a dis­ap­point­ing end to its sea­son. The Lady Rams made the post­sea­son but weren't a fac­tor as they were de­feated hand­edly by Ken­ne­saw Moun- tain in the open­ing round of the Class AAAAA play­offs. Last year was per­haps even more dis­ap­point­ing if you fac­tor in the Lady Rams had the same pitch­ing tan­dem of Shay McIn­erny and Holly Springer poised to have big se­nior sea­sons. In­stead, both pitch­ers didn't fare too well with the new, fur­ther pitch­ing mound dis­tance and nei­ther was able to build on the pre­vi­ous two years they had as starters. What's more, slug­ger Markea Shep­pard had a bet­ter ju­nior sea­son and didn't have the same pro­tec­tion in the lineup with the loss of Cha­conna Marks to grad­u­a­tion in 2009. That said Shep­pard still had a solid year at the plate and was un­af­fected by the dis­trac­tions that of­ten plague se­nior ath­letes. The same can't be said about Al­covy.

The Lady Tigers had a solid in­au­gu­ral sea­son un­der first-year head coach Mon­ica Marks but strug­gled against the elite teams in the re­gion. Af­ter hav­ing their way with the

competition for two years in Re­gion 4-AAAAA, the Lady Tigers' move to Re­gion 3A-AAAA proved dif­fi­cult.

As the sea­son pro­gressed, Al­covy strug­gled down the stretch. The Lady Tigers needed to beat Har­ris County in the re­gion play­offs to make it to the state tour­na­ment and they were swept in two close games. Al­covy's strug­gles can be at­trib­uted to the loss of sev­eral key play­ers late in the year.

The Lady Tigers' best pitcher Dal­las Hardin was shelved for the last month of the sea­son and she wasn't the only se­nior counted on to lead the team who went down to in­jury to­ward the end of the year. In fact, three play­ers Al­covy counted on heav­ily were non­fac­tors down the stretch. It isn't the first time Al­covy has strug­gled with los­ing key pieces. In 2009, Al­covy's best hit­ter Am­ber Mel­ton couldn't play her se­nior sea­son due to aca­demics.

The Lady Tigers must buck that trend to be suc­cess­ful in 2011. With Jones County, Wood­land Henry and Union Grove in the same sub­gre­gion, Al­covy can't af­ford to lose many games.

This year could be a break­out sea­son for Chelsea Thomas. Thomas was Al­covy's best hit­ter a year ago as a sopho­more and was thrust into the start­ing ro­ta­tion and be­came the Lady Tigers No. 1 pitcher. She's also the team's best fielder, an­chor­ing the left side of the in­field when she doesn't pitch, so her value can­not be over­stated. But Thomas should shine as she is now the team's leader and won't have the se­nior class that played four years to dis­tract her.

Sev­eral of New­ton and Al­covy's se­nior play­ers seemed to check out late in 2010 and that cer­tainly didn't help things over the fi­nal two weeks. Now that each team has a batch of new se­niors, it'll be im­por­tant for both Marks and New­ton coach Vir­ginia Waters to keep ev­ery­one mo­ti­vated through­out the year. Nei­ther team can af­ford to take a game off as each plays stiff competition. If ei­ther is go­ing to make a post­sea­son run, both Al­covy and New­ton will have to turn the page on 2010 and treat each game with a pur­pose in 2011.

Josh Briggs / The Cov­ing­ton News

Al­covy's Chelsea Thomas is poised to lead the Lady Tigers back to the state play­offs.

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