That’s why the coaches at Cherokee, Etowah and Woodstock believe that the most challenging part of the season will be simply gaining one of the region’s four postseason berths.
“I think, if you made it out of our region, you have accomplished something,” Woodstock coach Kortney Dempsey said. “We have a very strong region, which is good, but I think we will be alright. I feel pretty confident, but it’s up to the girls and what they bring every day.”
Cherokee coach Tonya Carlisle said the addition of Pope, a Class AAAAA finalist last year, to the region makes it more challenging. A year ago, the Lady Warriors were one of three teams tied for second place in the region, but following the tiebreaker rules, they were given a No. 4 seed going into the region tournament.
“I think it will be a lot like last year,” Carlisle said. “Every region game we play is extremely important because you are setting yourself up in the bracket to get a better draw. Really and truly, in the grand scheme of things, everything you are doing is preparing for the region tournament, because anything can happen. At the end of the day, the most important thing is October.”
Etowah coach Victoria Brown is happy with the group she has and believes they can improve on their 8-19 finish from a year ago. The Lady Eagles were wrapping up tryouts with a scrimmage Wednesday, and Brown said several players were straddling the line between the varsity and junior varsity teams, with a few tough calls to make.
“(Wednesday) was their final day to show us what they’ve got,” Brown said. “We asked them to let it all out and leave it all on the line and show us what they can do.”
No matter which players make the varsity roster, there’s one thing Brown was certain about.
“We have hard-workers,” she said. “We haven’t had that too much in the past, with the whole team wanting to work hard and learn and take everything that we are doing and putting it to use.”
Along the lines of building up the team and bringing players closer, Brown has started a mentoring program this season. Each member of the varsity team will be paired with a player on the eighth-grade feeder team.
“With travel ball being such an important part of what they are doing, we still want it to come back to the pride of playing for your school,” Brown said. “Travel ball is so big to everybody. We are trying this season to make it where it isn’t about individual players or stats, but really about what we do and can showcase.”
Among the returners for Etowah is senior shortstop Payton Curtis, who has been a part of the program since she was in eighth grade. She’s projected to be a four-year varsity starter.
The Lady Eagles will be without sophomore pitcher Lexi Palazzo this year after she underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason, though she will work with the younger pitchers in a mentoring role. Also gone is 2014 graduate Maddie Jenkins.
Down the road, Woodstock is in similar shape. The Lady Wolverines will bring in new players at center field and first base, but the rest of the roster returns.
Those returning players include sophomores Brianna Roper (pitcher/outfield), Danielle Ruben (pitcher) and Lexi Solorzano (third) and seniors Savanna Adams (utility), Grace Botti (shortstop/catcher) and Kayla Sangrey (catcher).
Adams and Reed underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason, but Adams is back in uniform, with Reed possibly rejoining the team in midseason.
Dempsey split her players into varsity and JV rosters Wednesday morning. There were 11 players listed as varsity, but a few JV players could find their way playing up on occasion.
Carlisle said there has been a lot of competition within her squad, and she feels depth will be a strength for the Lady Warriors.
Among the key returning players are seniors Kelli McCormack (outfield) and Katy Stamey (second), junior Macy Martinez (outfield) and sophomore Kindell Reeves (third/pitcher).
“I don’t think we will have a problem hitting the ball,” Carlisle said. “We just have to make sure our defense is solid.”
The biggest question at Cherokee remains when it will get to break in its new field, on the opposite side of the school building from Boling Park, where the Lady Warriors had been playing their games. Carlisle said it is a matter of how quickly the grass matures, but she is optimistic about playing the first game of the season there Tuesday against Harrison.
Last year, Etowah struggled in the region tournament, and Brown said she wants her players to rise to the level of their opponents.
“I’ve always told them, in order to see where you are, you have to play the best,” Brown said. “This region is going to be a doozy.”
Dempsey said the key is being focused.
“We can’t be concerned about the name on the other team’s shirt,” she said. “We just have to stay focused on us.”