Newton faces trials of youth movement

COVINGTON - The Newton softball team is going to have to build team chemistry and trust if the Lady Rams hope to have a successful season.

Last year's team had that trust in one another having played together for a long time. But with only one returning senior on this year's squad, the girls are going to have to get to know and more importantly trust that they'll be where they're suppose to be when they take the field.

"It's pretty much a new squad," Newton head coach Jason LaChappelle said. "I had them out here doing a little infield/outfield and we've got some pretty decent players. They just need to mesh a little better. The girls aren't used to each other yet. If they can come around real quick and build that chemistry, I think we'll have a decent first couple of weeks in the season."

Of the 13 players on the field, only one, Haleigh Higgins, is a returning senior. And of the remaining 12, five played varsity ball last season, with Holly Springer the only returning starter.

The other returning players are Stevie Hodges, Chaconna Marks, Sami Becker and Markea Shepherd.

"Losing the entire infield from last year put a hurt on us," LaChappelle said. "It's easier to replace one or two spots. Now there are no spots that are taken by anybody. I'm not sure who my middle infielder is going to be or who is going to play first base."

The other problem having a young team is leadership.

Even though he is confident that Higgins is going to take her place as team leader, LaChappelle is hoping that others will step up and help her lead.

"I have girls that have leadership potential that will step up," he said. "I'm expecting Haleigh to step up and take charge. The girls all look up to her. I know it's hard because some of them are only a couple of years (apart from) each other. Some of them may not want to be leaders, but they have to realize that they are."

LaChappelle still has high goals from his team despite having a young team and bringing Greenbrier, who made it to the Class AAAA Final Four last year, into the region.

"They took Lithonia and gave us Greenbrier this year, not a real fair trade," he said. "But we want to give Luella and Union Grove and Greenbrier a little more competition then we have in the past."

A top four finish in Region 2-AAAAA and winning more than one game in the South Sectionals.

"I'd like us to go farther then we went last year, and last year we went farther then we went the year before," LaChappelle said. "If we can go a couple more games than we did last year, I'll be real happy."

Springer is going to play a major role as the No. 1 pitcher, hopefully to help the team reach its goal.

"Holly is going to be our starter. Holly had a real good offseason," LaChappelle said. "I talked to her pitching and hitting coach all the time, and she has improved by leaps and bounds. She's picked up two or three new pitches. She's made some adjustments and is doing a whole lot better at the plate."

Other players working from inside the circle are Higgins, Shepherd and on occasion Shea McInerny, who played JV last year.

The only other position LaChappelle has a person of interest in mind is catcher with Marks sitting behind the plate.

"Chaconna's a good catcher, and I'm not worried about her mechanics," he said. "She has the ability, she just has to realize what her role is. Coach (Virginia) Waters and I are going to help her along that realization and I'm sure she'll be a great catcher for us."

As for the other players on the team - senior Chastity Lester, juniors Tia Cofield, India Hurst, Chermisha Roberts, sophomore Becca Brazelton and freshman Zandria Usher - the other positions are still unclaimed.

"I have several that can catch and several that can play the infield," LaChappelle said. "I'll be struggling in the outfield a little bit. The biggest thing is moving girls that haven't played positions before and getting them practice time. I don't think they can't do it, they just haven't yet. Some of the these girls that haven't been playing a lot just have to get back into it and get a better read on the ball."

Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

Team: Newton softball

Head coach: Jason LaChappelle (third season)

Last year's record: 23-12

Key returning players: Haleigh Higgins, Sami Becker, Stevie Hodges, Chaconna Marks, Markea Shepherd and Holly Springer

First game: 6:30 p.m. Friday against Salem in the Griffin Diamond Classic