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Rockdale Athlete of the Year: Kayla Kelly
Kelly a model of consistency for Rockdale

CONYERS - Whether it was on the golf course or on the softball diamond, Kayla Kelly was always in the swing of things for Rockdale.

In golf, the senior was a model of consistency, leading the Lady Bulldogs to their fourth straight Conyers Cup and a third-place finish in the Region 8-AAAA Tournament.

On the softball diamond, her steady play and leadership helped Rockdale end an 11-year playoff drought by earning a trip to the Class AAAA state sectional.

For those reasons, Kelly is the Citizen's 2008 Rockdale County High School Athlete of the Year.

Rockdale golf coach Frank Cassino feels there are several things that set Kelly apart from her competitors.

"Her determination, she won't accept anything but the best," he said. "She's a hard worker. She's played golf almost year round, and that really helps. Her mental toughness, she doesn't let anything get her down. She might have a bad shot, but she'll follow it up with four or five great shots."

Individually, Kelly capped off her career at Rockdale with her third straight girls medalist finish in the Conyers Cup. She also was the runner-up in the Region 8-AAAA Tournament with a 90, one spot short of qualifying for the state tournament.

For the season, she averaged a 44 per nine holes.

"Without her, Rockdale girls golf would have really struggled," Cassino said. "As a freshman, she was a big reason why we qualified as a team for state. She qualified for state as an individual by winning the region tournament as a sophomore. It's just unfortunate the last two years she came up a little bit short of going back to state, finishing third and second.

"She meant a lot to our program, just from the fact that she legitimized our program. I knew going in to every match we could be competitive with just about anybody, because I could count on her to post a good score."

Cassino also feels Kelly's laid-back personality was an asset on the golf course.

"She lets a lot of stuff just roll right off her back," he said. "She's got a pretty good sense of humor to go with her laid back personality. But she's really competitive and strives to be the best golfer she can be. With her personality, it's really the best of both worlds."

In softball, Kelly hit .320 in the fall for Rockdale with 24 hits, while providing steady play at third base. She struck out only six times in 78 at-bats.

Rockdale softball coach Holly Hamilton noticed Kelly was a different type of leader on the softball diamond.

"She's different in softball, she's very demanding of herself and her teammates," Hamilton said. "She was more of a vocal leader in softball, more than her laid-back personality in the classroom. Kayla is just a great person that people can respect and genuinely look up to.

"I think Kayla was a real good leader that all the girls looked to. They knew she was going to work hard all the time, and she was always ready to step up and get the job done."

Jeff Gillespie can be reached at jeff.gillespie@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: Past Winners

· 1999: Luke Manget

· 2000: P.J. Cantrell

· 2001: Michael Waters

· 2002: Carolyn O'Hora

· 2003: Sarah Jett

· 2004: Candice Camp

· 2005: Timothy Van Heest

· 2006: Carys Fincher

· 2007: Heather Quinn