COVINGTON, Ga. — Most coaches despise the term “rebuilding year,” and Heather Wood is no exception.
Though it could be understandable why some may desire to affix that moniker to the Eastside Eagles’ 2017 softball campaign. After a 2016 season that saw the Eagles post a 21-11 overall record and a perfect 13-0 mark on their way to a Region 4-AAAA title, Wood finds herself having to replace nine seniors from that state tournament bunch.
Still not a rebuilding year, though. She gives it another name.
“I don’t like the whole rebuilding concept because we’re always trying to build and grow,” Wood said. “But I will say this is a transition year. I lose my entire outfield, but I think we have a solid core to build upon, especially with the pitching staff and infield.”
Wood is looking for big things from her pair of hurlers in sophomore Kaylee Rusk and junior Dani Fairey. They’ll try to fill the gargantuan shoes left behind by the graduation of Molly Moon and Lauren Beshears.
But Wood seems confident that maturation will quickly give way to positive results.
“I’ve been so top-heavy with pitching depth the last couple of years that girls like Daynie didn’t get as much chance as maybe she would have,” Wood said. “But I really think they’re going to step up for us and grow. Both of them are such different pitchers, so I think they’ll balance each other out on the mound.”
Another young standout that’s quickly blossoming into a formidable force is sophomore catcher Alysee Dobbs. Dobbs started and starred as a freshman, and she also was named The Covington News Freshman basketball player of year. Dobbs has strengthened her game through travel ball as well this summer, and Wood is ready to call her a key cog in this young squad’s potential success.
“With Alysee and the rest of those girls I mentioned, they’re really going to be our core,” she said.
Wood also mentioned junior Jordan Rittenbacher as a potential heavy hitter.
“Her bat looked good this summer, and she’ll also be getting more playing time at third base,” Wood said.
The inexperience is definitely something new for Wood this year, as she has just one senior in short stop Mackenzie Walker. But she’s trying hard to make sure she doesn’t look so far ahead at what could be with this group that she misses the teachable moments in what’s currently in front of her.
“Things really do change when you have newcomers on the team and you’ve gotta show them our approach as far as defensive game plans, offensive game plans and the routine expected on varsity,” she said. “I think right now we’re taking it a little bit slower, but you always wanna look at the big picture.
The expectations are different, also. With senior laden teams and in the past, there always seemed to be an undercurrent of big postseason aspirations. That may not be the case now, but Wood isn’t complaining about that.
“With those senior heavy teams, there was a lot of pressure with that,” Wood said. “We gotta accomplish this. We gotta get to Columbus. And those expectations will still be reiterated, but now there’s not as much pressure with a younger team. We’re more relaxed and working on just being comfortable, not being timid and helping them understand that they’re really contributors to the team, and not just on the bench in case we need depth.”
It’s more work for Wood, but she doesn’t seem to mind.
“I’m probably having to coach the hardest in my life,” she said. “I normally like to come out and do a lot of conditioning, but now it’s all fundamentals, and that’s how it should be, too. It’s going to take some time, but it’s enjoyable.
Eastside softball camp draws over 30
Part of the Eastside softball experience this summer was the success of its annual summer softball camp.
With over 30 campers spending three days last week having fun and honing skills, Wood said it was a great way to bring the summer offseason to a fun end.
“This gives the young players who are campers the chance to look up to our older, varsity players,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to have interaction with our girls and give our girls a chance to be role models.”
Wood said the camp’s turnout was comparable to what it was last year. But she’s hoping that the momentum will continue to build.
“We’re having a youth day on August 22 where all our girls who were campers will get to come out and watch our players play. The young girls get really excited to see the older ones. It’s a great way to be a part of our program.”