Heather Wood has done this before, and last time she did it well.
Wood is entering her first season as the head coach of the Eastside softball team, with this being her second stint as head coach. She previously ran the team from 2006 to 2008, before stepping down to raise her children.
With Wood at the helm, the Eagles made it to Columbus for the playoffs in two of her three years as head coach. In Wood’s final year before stepping down, she led the Eagles to finish third in the state. After being away from the game for five years, Wood returns with a new crop of talent to groom.
Throughout this summer, the Eagles have been training three days a week, and Wood has been using this time to get to know the players and implant her DNA within the team.
“Right now it’s allowed me to really see the girls, get to know them and get a really good look at them before we have tryouts,” Wood said.
“I think the off-season and working throughout the summer is crucial for our upcoming season. I think it’s important. It just establishes the importance of working hard and preparing during the off-season,” Wood said. “It also gets our bodies prepared for the season. So I think summer workouts are crucial, and not only physically. I think it also creates a strong team bond from the get-go. It also allows me to get to know the players and get a better look at the players before we start, and it’ll let them get used to how I do things.”
For two days a week, the Eagles are in some sort of training to physically prepare themselves for the rigors of the upcoming season whether it be weight, speed and/or agility training.
“We’ve really tried to instill and work hard this summer, just improving a strong team unity and creating a positive atmosphere for the girls,” Wood said. “That’s one plus that I’ve seen so far. These girls have really worked hard throughout the summer. We’re trying to instill a strong work ethic with them and just preparing them for the season. That strong team bond [is something] I’ve seen. I’ve seen a strong work ethic, and again with the depth that just adds a lot and helps us get ready for the season.”
The depth Wood is referring to is new to Eastside, as they have been a young team the past couple of years under former coach Jason Stokes (who was an assistant under Wood during her first tenure). Although they only have a few seniors returning, there is a slew of experienced sophomores and juniors for Wood to rely on.
“I think anytime you have experience that adds a huge plus for your team. I think one thing that’s going to help us is we have so much depth,” Wood said. “We’ve got two or three people at each position, so I think that’s a good motivator for these girls. The fact that they don’t have the position and they have to work for it. That’s definitely a motivator for us to have depth at each position.”
When asked if this was the year the program would make the push to the next level Wood said, “I think we have a great chance. I think we have a great group of girls to work with. We have a lot of depth this year, with a strong sophomore and junior class. We have been young, but I’m definitely going to expect them to step up this year, and I think we have a great chance to make it to Columbus.”
It’s a new year, the Eagles have a new coach (sort of) and are in a new region (went from 8-AAAA to 4-AAAA) with the chance for a fresh start.
“We are in a new region so it’s hard to really compare last year’s region. I do think that our depth with our experience, being in a new region. I think that is a huge advantage for us,” Wood said.
The Eagles will begin the season Aug. 8 with a tournament in South Gwinnett.