Forsyth County’s varsity softball programs are movin’ on up this season, as all five squads ascend at least one classification in the Georgia High School Association.
The 2012 campaign also marks the first time that four Forsyth County schools will be grouped together in the same region.
Lambert, North Forsyth, South Forsyth and West Forsyth will compete in Region 6 of the newly created Class AAAAAA, where they will be joined by north Fulton rivals Chattahoochee, Johns Creek, Alpharetta and Centennial. Forsyth Central will be grouped with 10 other schools, including former region rivals Sequoyah and Creekview, in the new Region 7-AAAAA.
A year older and a year better is what head coach Bill Richardson hopes he will see from his team when the Lady Bulldogs taje the field.
Last year was a rebuilding year for a Central squad that finished 3-22 without any seniors. Already, Richardson can tell this team is much improved from last year thanks to the senior presence of outfielders Olivia Brasher and Taylor Alton and All-Region catcher Jessica Dunn.
"I really like the leadership from these girls," Richardson said. "They are hungry and are helping along the younger ones so much better than last year. I can tell they are more positive and want to do things better."
Sophomore pitchers Carrlyn Kiser and Caroline Thomas are both No.1 starters who can win games, Richardson said. At the plate, the Bulldogs will look to junior shortstop Rachel Karlan to put runs on the board. Karlan led the team with a .493 batting average last season.
"Expectations are a lot higher," Richardson said. "We are going to show up and play and try to get in the playoffs."
The Lady Longhorns have improved in each of their first three seasons under coach Dana Corr and produced their first winning record (15-13) in program history last year.
All four of Lambert’s 2011 All-County team selections were either freshmen or sophomores, giving the Lady Horns the potential to field a talented young nucleus for at least the next two seasons. Corr could not be reached for comment.
After reaching the Class AAAAA state playoffs for the first time in school history in 2010 and winning their first playoff series in the classification in 2011, the Lady Raiders now look to take the next step.
"We’re very capable of going further than we’ve ever been," head coach Bud Henderson said. "We’re going to try and win it all."
The Lady Raiders’ toughest task this season may come in trying to replace cleanup hitter Lauren Shaw, who batted .493 and drove in 24 runs despite drawing 19 walks last season as a senior.
North returns seven starters and will count on seniors Brittany Smith, Katie York, Rachel Mixon and Savannah Chapman to lead the team. Junior Andrea Coleman, the 2011 Forsyth County Pitcher of the Year, looks to remain Raiders’ top option on the mound, but Henderson hasn’t yet finished the full depth chart.
Henderson credited much of the team’s success to his assistant coaches, and in particular, pitching coach Becky Cahill.
"I did a fine job when I surrounded myself with good coaches," Henderson said with a laugh. "Becky has been with me a long time and does a great job coaching."
Henderson will place more responsibility on junior third baseman Sidney Turner to provide offense for the team.
"She swings the bat really well," Henderson said. "She is a great asset to have in the middle of our order."
Everyone is returning for the Lady War Eagles, and that’s good news for head coach Ronnie Davis.
South will look to improve on walks and unearned runs from last season, issues that narrowly prevented the team (12-17) from making the playoffs.
"We have an experienced group of players that know what the standard and expectations are," Davis said. "We are trying to play sound softball, and are putting things together to hopefully make it in the state playoffs."
Davis is looking for more big things out of junior third baseman Meghan Rud, who was named Forsyth County Player of the Year and Region 7-AAAA Co-Player of the Year last season.
Rud batted .439 with a team-leading 21 RBIs and set the school record for most steals in a season and in a career.
The War Eagles will also count on senior pitcher Kaylyn Young and senior centerfielder Frankie Catinella to provide leadership.
Although South will now face Lambert, North and West with Region 6-AAAAAA implications on the line, Davis said he teaches his players to avoid getting caught up in the rivalry element of the games.
"It’s all about what everyone makes of it," Davis said. "The games count just as equal as other games. We approach the game the same way because if you don’t, you put yourself at a disadvantage."
The Lady Wolverines are returning seven starters under second-year coach Justin Rickett.
West finished the 2011 season 13-17 and will count on seniors Maci Fletcher, Danielle Bernstein, Avery Migues and Sam Turk to pace the team.
Fletcher pitched 90 innings with a 3.11 ERA and 54 strikeouts last season. At the plate, she drove in 15 runs and had a .443 OBP.
"I want them to work hard and reach their full potential on a daily basis," Rickett said. "[Expectations are] high."
Rickett believes the additional rivalry games will bring bigger crowds and add an extra piece of motivation for his players.