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A fresh start
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With the softball season set to begin next week, Newton has a renewed focus going into the 2011 campaign. After a tough year that saw the Lady Rams go 5-5 in region play but 11-18 overall, they turn the page and look to get back to the basics.

Newton did make the postseason but was shown the door quickly after a pair of lopsided losses to Kennesaw Mountain. Head coach Virginia enters her third year and admittedly is prepared to quell her expectations after lofty goals a year ago.

"I felt like last year was our year or should have been our year," Waters said. "I went into the season thinking we had both of our pitchers and we had Holly (Springer) and Markea (Sheppard) who were hitting the ball so well so I felt like if there was a time for us to go further than we had, it was last year. But we allowed the other teams opportunities because of mistakes or meltdowns in critical situations and we just couldn't put it together when we needed to."

To get back to the playoffs, Newton will have to do it without an experienced pitching staff. In fact, the Lady Rams are going to have to get their without any traditional pitching at all. After losing Springer and Shea McInerney to graduation after the tandem anchored the staff for three years, Newton will need

"We're going to have to rely on some girls who aren't true pitchers, who are good enough athletes that they are able to get the ball over the plate with some decent velocity and we will look to our defense a lot more than we have in the past," Waters said.

Letice Albert will be one of those and it's not out of the realm of possibility she becomes the staff ace. She did see some action on the mound last year as a sophomore and at least has that experience to bank on.

Kelsey Swinson, another key returning senior, will be the other pitcher Waters will lean on even if it takes away some defense.

"I hate taking her away from shortstop, but Kelsey can pitch as well," Waters said. "Neither of them have five or six pitches, but they very consistent with throwing strikes."

Fortunately for the Lady Rams, assistant coach Ashley Coles returns after initially not making it through the budget cuts at the end of last school year. Coles, a former pitcher, along with her father and ex coach Greg, will aid in teaching the craft of pitching.

"I'm just blessed to have Ashley here to teach the girls everything she knows," Waters said. "With these girls, with as good of athletes as they are, it's more of teaching them the release point and the fundamentals."

Another change for Newton will be its offensive tendencies. Gone are the big bats of Springer and Markea Sheppard. The Lady Rams won't be able to bash their way to wins by scoring a lot of runs. Zandria Usher returns as Newton's primary power threat. Beyond her though, the Lady Rams will rely on contact and speed to score runs.

"We lost two of our biggest power hitters but I'm seeing more speed out here than I ever have," Waters said. "We can play the short game if we need to and I'll take that all the time. I've seen some girls out here than can flat-out fly and I'll use that all day long if I need to."

Despite losing their two best hitters, the Lady Rams will still be strong at the plate. Marie Diaz, Swinson and Usher are coming off solid offensive seasons and speed threats Keyanna Notae and Albert give the Lady Rams speed at the top of the lineup.

Last year when things didn't go well, Newton struggled. The Lady Rams suffered back-to-back double-digit losses early in the season with one of those games to rival Eastside to set the tone.

McInerney wasn't effective from the longer distance of the pitching mound and Springer's confidence took a hit after her knee injury she suffered her junior year.

This year, Waters thinks the team will have a renewed focus especially given the pitching won't be something they'll lean on.

"I think this group of girls is more laid back and they're more coachable than some of my kids the past few years," Waters said. "They seem more eager to learn and aren't set in their ways. They are open to criticism more which is good for a coach because you don't always want to feel like you're pulling teeth. I don't butt heads with these girls like I have with some in the past."

After falling short of high expectations in 2010, Waters is more cautiously optimistic entering 2011. The Lady Rams won't overpower teams but she expects them to compete and that's all she's looking for.

"Right now, I know what the girls are capable of. But at the same time, I know we have a long way to go to get to where we can compete with all the teams in the Elite Eight at Columbus," Waters said. "I definitely don't ever count us out of any game because our defense is good and I hope to play a lot of 2-1 games because I don't know if we'll score a lot. If my defense can hold up for me I think we can play a good game with anybody and that's what how we're going to approach it. Hopefully we can surprise some people."

to turn position players into pitchers, and fast.