The Heritage softball team begins a new era Monday without three familiar faces to Lady Patriots fans over the last few years.
Following a 23-12 2011 season, in which Heritage made a first-round playoff appearance, offensive star Simone Davenport and top of the order hitter Kayla Phillips have both graduated.
The losses to those key offensive players leave Heritage looking for new ways to score runs, in what is the beginning of the Jason McBay era.
The 2011 season also marked the last one for former coach Dickie Hightower, who is now coaching at the collegiate level.
McBay, an assistant on Hightower's staff, took over as head coach during the offseason.
He said he is excited about being the one to lead Heritage starting in 2012, and is using both lessons learned from Hightower and his own style in leading the girls.
"(Hightower) was a great coach, and I learned so much from him," McBay said. "Besides my dad, he's probably the most influential man in my life. But I feel like the biggest thing is being a little harder on them. Dickey had a soft side, a big heart, but I feel like we can push them a little harder."
Up until Monday's first pitch, McBay feels that his biggest challenge has been getting his team to trust him.
In trying to earn that trust, he has created a battle cry for Heritage which may be a little familiar to fans of Elvis Presley - TCB.
However, as far as the Lady Patriots are concerned, the letters in their locker room and are the signature on every one of McBay's emails does not mean Taking Care of Business. Heritage's TCB stands for Trust, Commitment and Believe.
"If they trust me and are committed to practice, committed to their teammates, committed to going to class and being good students, then we can achieve the things that we believe we can do, such as get back to (the final four in) Columbus," McBay said. "It's kind of been our battle cry."
McBay believes in order for Heritage to reach some of Heritage's goals it will need someone to step up on offense.
"Last year we leaned on Kayla getting on, getting on second and Simone driving her in," McBay said. "That was our whole offense."
This season, Heritage is looking for veterans such as Diamond Calwood, Kierra Camp and Nielah Floyd to step up into bigger roles.
"Diamond is our defensive leader at shortstop and she'll hit at the top of the order for us," McBay said. "A senior that really stepped up for us last year and made the All-Region team is Nielah Floyd. The right fielder hit over .400 on the season and continued to work hard and not let success go to her head."
While the offense brings question marks, the pitching staff is a known quantity.
Camp has been one of Region 8-AAAA's top pitchers during her freshman and sophomore seasons, and will likely be one in 2012.
"Every time she's in the circle, we have a chance to win," McBay said.
This year, McBay feels Heritage will also have a solid No. 2 choice in freshman Kamryn Toney.
"If Kiera needs a break or gets in a jam, I feel like we can make a switch and the drop off is not so big as it has been in the past," McBay said. "(Toney) has a lot of experience in travel ball playing at a pretty high level. I feel like she can contribute as a freshman."
That strength at the pitching position is what McBay said will be crucial to Heritage's success in his first season as head coach.
"When you can take care of that position first (everything goes smoother)," McBay said. "In softball, obviously, if you have pitching that takes care of half of your problems."
The Lady Patriots had an exhibition game scheduled for Thursday, but it was canceled due to rain, making Monday's opener the first chance for them to play against live competition.