The high school softball season begins this week, as Columbia County's fastpitch prep squads take the field for the 2002 campaign.
Over the past few years, Harlem, Evans and Lakeside all have experienced plenty of softball success, and Greenbrier doesn't know what it's like to finish second - the Lady Wolfpack has won the Area (region) championship in each of the team's six years of existence.
"That can be an advantage and a disadvantage," Greenbrier coach Garrett Black said of the string of titles. "Every time we step on the field, the other team wants to beat Greenbrier."
This year, the Lady Pack's senior leaders are Meagan Borum, Katie Sutherland and Nikki Smith, and sophomores Kristan Glover and Jenni Massingale pace the pitching staff. The squad could also feature three freshmen in the starting lineup, in Brittney Leverett, Amanda Glover and Courtney McCladdie.
"Things have been going well in our two weeks of practices," Black said. "If we stay focused we could field a pretty good team."
With Georgia High School Association realignments kicking in for the 2002-03 school year, though, Greenbrier will have to work hard to earn title No. 7.
"This will be the toughest the region has ever been," Black said of Area 3-AAAA, which will feature newcomers Jones County, Baldwin and Cross Creek, along with perennial challenger Lakeside.
Evans also stands to benefit by moving from Region 4-AAAAA to Region 7-AAAAA. Over the past two seasons, the Lady Knights labored in a softball-rich, 16 team Region 4, but will battle only eight squads in Region 7, which sports no prep powerhouses.
Another plus for Evans is a lighter road schedule. Also, with fewer region games scheduled, the Lady Knights get to tangle with Greenbrier, Harlem and Lakeside this season.
There also will be some coaching changes on the Columbia County diamonds.
After a one-year hiatus, Jay Matthews returns to coach the Lakeside Lady Panthers. In 2001, Lakeside finished second to Greenbrier in Area 3-AAAA, and this year could challenge the Lady Pack's reign.
"Lakeside will be tough to beat," Black said. "Jay brings a lot to the table from a coaching standpoint, and they have some seniors that know what it's all about."
Harlem will be led by new coach Melissa Chase. The former Elbert County coach replaces Krista Meadows, and Chase may have stepped in at a good time - she inherits a Lady Dog squad that placed second in Area 3-AAA last year, plus defending Area 3-AAA champion Cross Creek has moved to Class AAAA.
Opening week high school softball schedule
(Note: Harlem's schedule was unavailable)
Wednesday: Greenbrier at Madison County Leadoff Classic; Evans at South Gwinnett Tournament
Thursday: Evans at South Gwinnett Tournament
Friday: Evans at South Gwinnett Tournament; Greenbrier at Madison County Leadoff Classic; Lakeside at Northwest Whitfield Tournament.
Saturday: Greenbrier at Madison County Leadoff Classic; Lakeside at Northwest Whitfield Tournament.
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