MILLEDGEVILLE — It’s not easy to finish state runner-ups in softball for the Georgia High School Association’s Class A Public Schools. But Georgia Military Prep School solidified its place as one of the top teams in the state by reaching the feat for a second straight year, earning the team this week’s Athletes of the Week honors.
Touting a 27-5 record this season with wins against some of the GHSA’s best, it is clear that the Lady Bulldogs are doing something right.
“We didn’t end last year like we wanted to, but we were eager to come back this year and we were satisfied with whatever role we got,” Keely Murner, junior, said. “It boils down to working together as a team.”
The GMC Prep secret in softball appears to be its team chemistry, as many of the girls developed friendships before becoming part of the program.
“A lot of us grew up playing together so we’ve been playing together for a long time. We hang out outside of practice,” Sutton Long, sophomore, said. “We practice a lot, and I guess when you spend the summer with your team for the last two years you become close.”
Long admits the Lady Bulldogs have a unique situation in that most other high school programs pull players from different travel ball teams and middle schools, forcing them to have to develop friendships in their high school years.
“I guess from other schools, you go to high school and you’re put on a team, but we were already a team when we got here, having that teamwork and having that bond,” she said.
Friendships created off the field have carried this year’s team to one of its best runs in a long time, and a second-straight runner-up finish.
“We just really believe in togetherness. I would say that started back in July when we had 11 players travel to the Dominican Republic — that was a bonding experience,” Julie Brooker, head coach, said. “I would say that the strength of our team is that one through 12, when they were called upon stepped up for us. We had five or six different people lead us in batting or on-base percentage at some point this season, which it’s hard to beat a team like that.”
Long’s fellow sophomore, Sarah Margaret Mason, agrees that the team’s success was largely due in part to the production of every single player on the roster and the ability to push each other to work on the fundamentals, which Brooker stresses in practice.
“We always work hard and we work as a team. It’s not a single-person sport; everybody contributes, so it’s a team effort,” Mason said. “In my opinion, I haven’t seen another team that is as fundamentally sound on the field, and it pays off.”
For Murner, one of the team’s four captains along with lone senior Jessica Hayles and juniors Macy Watkins and Dixie Raley, the closeness of the team made the success this fall more meaningful, having put in the work with 11 other girls in practice every day.
“It feels so much better because we can share it and not take it all on our own. It was so good to have 11 other girls that were there behind me, and whatever we got we could celebrate together and not just on our own.”
The junior captain admits the runner-up performance this season shows that the GMC Prep squad is not going anywhere anytime soon.
“We’re all sisters, and I think even though it wasn’t what we wanted, it’s still an accomplishment and it was still closer than it was before,” Murner said. “It was nice to show we could make it back and we weren’t a one-hit wonder.”
Not only were the Lady Bulldogs not a one-hit wonder, sophomore Whitley Dunn believes they will come back next season even stronger — and with a purpose.
“We’re thankful for second place, but we’re looking forward to being state champions,” she said. “We all played our heart out in every single game, but it gives us more to look forward to for next year.”