A well-known name in the world of travel softball will try his hand at school ball starting this year.
Wes Land, a Gray, Ga. native and resident, has been tabbed as the new head coach for John Milledge Academy varsity softball. Land has coached at the highest levels of youth and high school travel softball, but this will be his first gig affiliated with a school. He takes over a program with a strong winning pedigree despite having had four different head coaches since the 2016 season. Through all that change the Lady Trojans have played their way to six consecutive GISA AAA semifinal berths along with back-to-back state runner-up finishes in 2019 and ‘20.
Land hopes to bring stability to JMA softball and help the program make the leap from championship contender to champion.
“I want to create a culture similar to what the [JMA] football team has,” Land told The Union-Recorder Monday. “The talent is there. We’ve just got to hone it in a little bit and sharpen it up.”
Land works for Coca-Cola full-time, but his schedule allows him to coach in the afternoons. He and his wife Patty have a daughter Autumn who just finished up her final season playing at Georgia Military College. Their other daughter Ana-Marie will be a sophomore at John Milledge this year and will play for her father. Land’s experience on the travel tournament circuit includes having coached against the Czech Republic and Canadian Junior Olympic teams. He’s led a team to fifth place overall in the Amateur Softball Association Nationals and 10th in the Premier Girls Fastpitch Nationals.
He’ll look to bring that winning culture to the Lady Trojans program that has come just short of the game’s ultimate prize in recent years.
“I’m here to win, and that’s what we're going to do,” said Land. “It’s got to start with our middle school program. I want those young ladies to be on the same course we’re on so that when they come out of the sixth and seventh grade they already know where the bar is set and the expectations we’re looking for.”
Joining Land on his staff will be longtime JMA assistant Traci Rollins and a name new to the team, but familiar to those who have followed local high school softball. GMC Prep alum Dixie Raley will help with the young John Milledge pitching staff beginning this year. Raley pitched collegiately at both Georgia Southern and the University of South Carolina.
“That’s going to be a big push there,” Land said of Raley.
The team standing between the Lady Trojans and that coveted state championship has been the Westfield Lady Hornets of Perry. They have won the last four GISA AAA softball state titles. Westfield graduated a ton of talent and lost its head coach to another school, but still figures to be strong come the fall. Despite that and the fact that it will just be his first year at JMA, Land is still aiming as high as possible in his inaugural season.
“They have something in Perry that we want,” he said. “It’s going to be tough, but that’s our goal. What ever it takes to get there, we’re going to do it.”
JMA softball is set to begin summer conditioning and workouts this week under the new head coach.