Last year the South Forsyth softball team took down the North Forsyth Raiders, winners of the past two region championships, to take over as the top team in the county and capture the Region 6-7A championship.
However, it was not all roses for the War Eagles.
Sure, they had three-time Forsyth County Player of the Year Makenna Segal leading them at the plate, but one of their star players, Kennedy Ariail, never got to see the field for the War Eagles after tearing her ACL right before the start of the season.
“I was really sad at first because I wanted to play,” Ariail said. “It took a long time, but I feel like I’m stronger now. Definitely physically, but mentally, it takes a long time. You have to do so much work every day and it’s mentally draining, but I really learned how to work hard.”
Ariail joined two other sophomores, Ellie Balose and Sarah Quian, in the dugout with season-long injuries. Balose, a pitcher, fractured a vertebra in her back and Quian, an outfielder, fractured her wrist.
Ariail recommends for other high school athletes to get injured at the same time as their friends and teammates, but South head coach Leanne Brooks suggested otherwise.
As the season progressed, two more sophomores were sidelined for the rest of the season.
First baseman Karly Casey dove and hit her head in the middle of practice and third baseman Emme Souter was hit by a pitch during a game that broke her arm.
“We knew we had other people, but we were so into our groove,” Brooks said. “So, having to figure out who was going to cover this position was more of the challenging things this season because we had to move so many people around.”
Through the adversity, the remaining War Eagles advanced to win the region by winning their last six region games to stay one game above the Raiders in the standings.
The War Eagles advanced to the Sweet 16 of the state playoffs before being eliminated by North Gwinnett.
“We knew the girls were mentally strong, though,” Brooks said. “We didn’t give up, though, because we knew we had some talented girls. We put it on the table for them. Now it’s their turn to fill those spots and not let your teammates down.”
This season, South is laying all cards on the table. The massive junior class is healthy and ready to repeat as region champs.
Not only have the girls gotten stronger through their individual rehabilitation, but they have an added appreciation for being out on the field.
“It really made me appreciate when I’m out on the field, even if I’m upset with the game,” Souter said. “Just a reminder that I’m happy to be here.”
Brooks said she has a hard time containing her excitement when she thinks about this junior class getting its first opportunity to take the field together.
“We haven’t seen a group with so much talent and a group so large in a really long time,” Brooks said. “They were the ones that came in as freshmen with me as my first year as head coach. I’ve gotten extremely close with them. They know I have all the faith in the world in them and they have confidence in me that I’m going to do what’s best for them.”
The War Eagles lost six seniors, including Segal, who leaves to continue her softball career collegiately at Ole Miss. However, Quian said that the team has not forgotten the mentality of the seniors before them.
“They used to joke around all the time that we’re going to walk to Columbus,” Quian joked, referencing Columbus, Ga., where the softball state championships are played every year. “That’s our goal, no doubt about it. To end up in Columbus.
The War Eagles begin their season at 5:55 p.m. Aug. 9 at home against Collins Hill.