CONYERS - The Salem softball team is excited about the upcoming season.
The biggest reason for the Lady Seminoles' excitement has to do with their almost ready new home. Hopefully, by late August, the Salem squad will say goodbye to Earl O'Neal Sports Complex and say hello to its new on-campus facility.
"We are so excited to finally have a field at Salem and to not have to travel to Earl O'Neal," Salem coach Stephanie Bassett said. "I think it will motivate the girls to work harder and play harder. We are also hoping that having a field on campus will allow us a bigger fan base with more faculty and student support."
Last season in Bassett's first year at the helm, the Lady Seminoles experienced some growing pains with a very young squad and posted a 2-17 record.
This season, Bassett is hoping to turn things around. The Lady Seminoles open the season Friday in the Spalding County Tournament against Crisp County in Griffin.
"Every year, I want the team, as a whole, and the girls, individually, to get better. That's why we work hard every day and push ourselves every day," she said. "I don't want our team to ever become complacement with good enough. They should always strive to be better than they were the day before.
"I stressed to the girls that this is a new year. We have a new team and a new outlook. This year's team will be the standard to which they are measured, not last year, not the year before."
Salem's key returning players are senior outfielder Meghan Campbell, sophomore third baseman Jessica Vason and sophomore pitcher Alyssa Essington. Last season, Campbell was Salem's top hitter with a .358 batting average and seven doubles.
Other members of the team are: seniors Kristi Allbritten and Samantha McCalvin; junior Tori Beauchamp; sophomores Mackinzy Rogers, Karyn Nooks and Jamila Gunn; freshmen Kayla Yorkman, Kara Bassett, Justice Smith and Stephanie Brassard.
The key losses off last year's squad were Shelly Alliston at catcher and Jenna Brewer at third base.
"This year our biggest strengths will be leadership, team unity and communication. This group of girls works very well together and encourages each other," Bassett said. "We have a great group of seniors who are solid leaders and good examples for the younger players to follow.
"I have a very solid group of girls coming up this year who will undoubtedly make a difference in our team. The underclassmen also allow me to have depth on the bench. I know there are many girls I could put in any position on the field and know they would do well."
But with nine of the 13 players on the roster either freshmen or sophomores, Bassett knows it will take her squad a little time to develop.
"My only concern is that we have a young team which needs to learn to play together," she said. "We are still learning each other's capabilities and tendencies and it takes time to develop chemistry."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
· Team: Salem softball
· Coach: Stephanie Bassett (second season)
· Last year's record: 2-17
· Key returning players: Meghan Campbell, Jessica Vason and Alyssa Essington
· First game: Friday vs. Crisp County in Spalding County Tournament in Griffin, 5 p.m.