Last year the GMC Prep softball team found itself in some unfamiliar territory.
Players, coaches, and supporters had become rather accustomed to seasons ending at the state championship tournament in Columbus. The result wasn’t always a GHSA Class A-Public state title, but the Lady Dogs had cemented themselves perennially as one of the top eight programs in the state.
GMC Prep’s 2018 season finished one step shy of that achievement thanks to a second round state playoff exit after losing a three-game series against Bowdon.
Some shuffling within the school’s athletic department moved former head softball coach Allen Simmons into a full-time athletic director role and shifted former assistant Jennifer Deason into the lead softball position. She was an assistant for last year’s team that narrowly missed out on a championship tourney berth. It’s something that both Deason and her holdover players are using as motivation for 2019.
“That’s fresh in these returning girls’ minds,” Deason told The Union-Recorder after Wednesday’s practice. “They’re still a little sore about that. GMC has been competitive for so long that it’s almost expected for the softball team to go to Columbus. When you don’t, it doesn’t sit well. I think that’s been in the back of the players’ minds from day one and it’s driving them. Our goal is to not only get there, but to be playing on Saturday for the championship.”
Although Deason is the new head, she says the way the program is run will maintain the status quo set in recent years.
“Coach Simmons had a great program going and I was lucky enough to work under him for three years,” the new head coach said. “Not much has changed because I learned a lot from him. I’m fortunate enough to still have a good coaching staff. We’ve picked up a couple of community coaches and they’re a big help. Coaching is a team effort. We collaborate a lot to figure out what’s best for the team. The coaching staff is a lot like the team. It’s not ‘me’ it’s ‘we.’”
As for roster, the first-year varsity head coach has good bit with which to work. The Lady Dogs graduated three starters from last year’s team, but the returning talent has some growing up to do if the program is going to return to its previous levels of prestige. The bottom half of the batting order struggled in big games, leaving GMC Prep short of its region and state tournament goals.
Among the returners is lone 2019 senior Whitley Ward who finished with the team’s highest batting average and most doubles a year ago. Averages don’t get much better than Ward’s .514 from last year, a number that coupled with her 11 doubles, 23 RBIs, and outstanding defense helped her earn a First Team All-Region and All-County honors. The rising senior has spent most of her varsity career behind the plate at catcher, but she also split time at third in 2018. This season will see her line up in a different position entirely as she is set to take over the shortstop since the team lost its longtime 6 to graduation. It’s a challenge the GMC junior college softball commit says she’s ready for as she prepares to lead the team onto the diamond.
“The season hasn’t even started, but we’ve already formed bonds,” said Ward. “We’re closer than almost any other softball team I've ever been on. We’re young, but we’ve been playing together for a long time. We’re so tightly knit that we know even if we don’t do well when the season starts we’ll all have each other’s backs no matter the outcome.”
“Whitley’s a great leader,” Deason said. “She gets players where they need to go and she never gets too high or too low, which is great because it keeps our team right where we need to be. Being an only senior is a big job because you don’t have anybody else to rely on, but that’s when these juniors have the chance to step up.”
At seven players, juniors make up the largest class for this year’s Lady Dogs, including returners Makenna Talcott, Bella Herring, and M.K. Lawrence. Talcott at second base is another player Deason expects a lot out of this year after her stellar sophomore campaign. Talcott hit for a .474 average and knocked in 26 RBIs from the left side of the plate. Herring will be the team’s key arm for a second straight year, but Coach Deason does want to be careful to not wear her out before the postseason. The head coach says she’ll look to let some other hurlers pitch versus some lesser opponents and also close out some games where GMC jumps out to a lead.
Beyond the players previously mentioned are where the question marks lie for the 2019 Lady Dogs softball team. Some underclassmen will have to show some improvement if GMC Prep is going to finish atop the competitive Region 7-A and return to Columbus. While GMC’s half of the sub-region isn’t all that stacked the other side does house the private schools out of Macon, teams that always bring it on the softball diamond. Deason believes her inaugural team has what it takes to make a splash.
“I think we’re going to do just fine this season,” she said. “These girls are committed to doing everything it takes to get a win.”
The Lady Dogs are scheduled to kick off their 2019 regular season at FPD Aug. 6 at 5:30 p.m. Their home opener is set for Aug. 12 against Monticello.