The Newton varsity softball team will begin the 2016 season with a new head coach and in a new region.
The Rams finished 8-9 overall last year, with a 8-4 Region 2-AAAAAA record under former coach Ashley Coles. This season, the Rams are moving to a much tougher AAAAAAA region, where they will face Gwinnett County Schools like Grayson, Archer and Shiloh.
Making her debut at the head coaching spot is Shandria Usher, who plans to keep the Rams focused throughout the season.
“We have a lot of new players this year,” she said. “We have five returning seniors, and we’re in a pretty tough region this year and we’ve been working really hard over the summer during workouts. We’re just here to have fun and not lose focus with a tougher region. But we’re expecting to do our best.”
Returning seniors include Markayla Price, Katy Adams, Tayana Wimby, Micah Shepperd and Ashley Weesner, who is expected to lead the team after the departure of outfielder Ciara Bryan, who hit .545 in 2015 with 54 hits. Bryan, who now plays college softball for Georgia, is a former Region Player of the Year and was named an All-American by FloSoftball and Premier Girls Fastpitch.
“We’re definitely going to miss Ciara,” Usher said. “She was a big help to our program. But we also have [catcher] Ashley Weesner. She’s stepping up her game and working extremely hard in practice, and I’m expecting to see great things from her.”
With this being Usher’s first year with the Rams, their key focus is on communication and getting to know one another on and off the field.
“This is my first year, so we’re just trying to find each other and get to know one another, how each other feels and communicates and how they work together on the field,” Usher said.
The Rams opened their season Friday against North Gwinnett as a part of the Peachtree Ridge tournament. They will begin region play Monday, Aug. 15 at South Gwinnett High School in Snellville.
With their five key seniors and incoming group of freshman, the Rams hope to find their way to the playoffs in the postseason.
“The overall goal for the year is to compete, work hard and leave everything on the field,” Usher said. “I mainly want us to be able to compete in this region. We have some pretty fundamentally sound freshmen that are ready to put in the necessary work, and I am looking for the seniors to step up their game and lead our team to the playoffs as they did last year. We have a pretty good defensive team and we are definitely improving daily on each aspect of this game.”