It didn't take long for Melissa Chase to face her first coaching crisis with the Harlem High School softball team.
In the 2002 season opener, senior pitcher Lori Mullis was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken ulna - a bone in her arm.
Harlem eventually earned a 10-2 win in that Region 3-AAA contest at Washington County High School, but the Lady Dogs will be without Mullis for a while.
Despite the injury to Mullis, Chase says she is satisfied with what she sees in her squad, which travels Wednesday for a 5:30 p.m. game against region rival Jefferson County.
"As far as athletic ability, they have tons of it," Chase said. "They have been coached well in the past, so I have a good base to work with. They all know what they're doing."
Chase knows fast-pitch as well. She played for the Augusta State University team from 1997 through 2000, and as an ASU senior was a co-captain for the Lady Jaguars. In a personal bio in the Lady Jags media guide, Chase listed coaching as her career goal.
Harlem's new softball coach Melissa Chase hits some balls to her team before the start of a recent game.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
That goal was achieved quickly. After graduating from college, Chase became head softball coach at Elbert County High School. Her team posted an 8-15 record last season.
Former Harlem softball coach Krista Meadows also played softball at ASU. When Meadows moved to Dublin, Chase gladly grabbed the Harlem job.
"It kind if fell in my lap," she said. "I was content where I was, but when this job opened up, I jumped on it."
Why not? Chase inherits a team that won the Region 3-AAA championship last year, and the players are intent on repeating in 2002.
"That's their smallest goal," Chase said. "They want to go all the way (to a state title) and that's OK with me. They're not afraid to back up what they say."
Along with Mullis, Harlem's senior group includes Clare Hatcher, Laura Wilkerson and Megan Edwards. Junior Sarah Harrington has stepped up to handle the pitching chores, and also plays shortstop. Junior Brandy Braswell returns as starting third baseman, while Amber Klein is back behind the plate.
Harlem has had to replace some of its best hitters from last season, as Toya Johnson, Shannon Camp and Karen Wolfe have graduated. Also gone are slick infielders Raven Whitaker and Jessica West, and outfielder Jenni Prosnak.
There's some rising talent, though. Harlem has 12 freshmen on the team this season, and several are vying for starting positions.
Defense is probably Harlem's strength, according to Chase, but she noted the hitting also is coming around.
The key, however, might be internal. The Harlem softball schedule is highlighted by the slogan "Lady Dog Pride," and that's not something the players take lightly.
"They're really working hard. Even when we're constantly doing drills in the heat, they don't quit," Chase said. "They love being out there and that shows. They are very diligent and persistent."
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