By R. Alan Richardson
Yes, the 2017 school year has ended and summer is upon us. What a year it was for high school athletics at Morgan County. However, most of the teams started working toward their next season as soon as school let out. If you think that these players and coaches get to slack off during the summer months, you are sorely mistaken. The never-ending work of high school and middle school players to hone their craft continues and a lot is going on as fall sports will be upon us before you know it. Here’s a rundown of some of the many activities going on behind the scenes in June.
Softball will be looking to replace the loss of seven vital seniors that played a role in last year’s deep state tournament run. This will be a young and fun team to watch. Head Coach Jason McBay enters his second year at the helm. The girls are just coming off the Greenbrier Tournament where they defeated Tattnall 11-0, Vidalia 10-0, and Evans 8-4 and lost to Greenbrier 5-3 and Winder 7-0. McBay said, “Our young team is coming along nicely. Most of our younger players were role players last year as courtesy runners/bunters/ defense replacements etc., but they’ve done a good job stepping up. It is early, however, and we still have A LOT of work to do. A few newcomers that will have an immediate impact are rising freshmen Reign Williams and Karlie Lane. Both play the game hard and hustle. Also, we have a rising senior transfer, Katee Finney, that will pitch for us and maybe play some second base. Starters returning from last season are shortstop Alissa Webb, catcher Madison Henry, and first baseman Mary Trent Chandler. We are also looking for big things from Maeson Tanner, Hannah Callaway, Mackenzie Torbush, Zoey Brown, McKenna Camp, Dakota Cepuran, Sadie Worth, Gracie Williams, and Nicole Edwards.”
The Lady Diamond Dogs are working to play toward their strengths and improve weaknesses that McBay has seen. He commented, “Our strengths are the things you can control: Attitude, effort, and performance. Most of these girls experienced Columbus and the playoff runs the past two years so they know the effort and amount of work it takes to compete at that level. I also feel that another strength is our assistant coaches. Billy Dooley is returning this year, but we have also added Rylee Rogers, a Conyers Native and recent graduate from Williams Baptist College, and Tim Roop, a math teacher from Social Circle HS, to our staff. In addition, we have former Lady Dog Victoria Thomas (a recent Young Harris graduate) that is helping out over the summer. These coaches make my job so much easier and all have been great additions to our staff. Some of the things we really have to iron out are pitchers throwing strikes and being mentally tougher on the mound. Also, we have a very young team so we will need to learn how to handle adversity and things not being given to us. Finally, I really think we have to get back to the basics of defense. In order for our pitchers to trust throwing strikes, they have to know the defense has their back and will make the plays. Dooley will handle the infielders, I’ll be working with the outfield, Rogers will handle conditioning and defense for pitchers, and Roop will work with catchers and first basemen.”
The long history of success in recent years of the Lady Dogs is something that Morgan County fans look forward to each fall. McBay relayed that sentiment saying, “Overall, we are super excited about the upcoming fall. Some people have already counted us out because of the seven we graduated, but I have complete confidence that these young ladies will rise to meet every challenge we face. Our theme for this season – inspired by the tragic loss of former Lady Dog and Coach Brittany Smith is – “1Heartbeat”. A lot can happen in one heartbeat and we want all of ours to count. Hopefully as we grow closer and work toward our goals, opponents will feel the power of our ONE consistent powerful heartbeat.”
Football workouts, practices, and 7-on-7 team competition continued this past week with a trip to the University of Georgia where the players enjoyed going up against great competition on some of the finest facilities in American college football. Head Coach Bill Malone said, ““I really liked the way we competed against some of the bigger schools in the state. Depth is an issue when we go up against teams who two platoon. It was a great experience for our guys to be able to play in UGA’s new indoor facility as well as Sanford Stadium.” Defensive coordinator, Brett Bell, also seemed pleased with his unit’s body of work when he made these remarks, “The UGA camp was a great experience for our players. We got to play in Sanford Stadium and in the new indoor practice facility. I feel that the environment and opponents we faced raised the play of many individuals on our defense which is promising to see. We improved tremendously from our first 7-vs-7 and did a great job limiting the big play throughout the day. Individually, Jordan Huff led the way with multiple interceptions and also gained a Pittsburgh offer directly from their head coach (Pat Narduzzi). Safeties Javis Benford and Brandon Smith have provided great senior leadership and are always around the ball making great plays. A new player making a move in the secondary is Kevin Pearson who impressed at corner during the camp.”
The middle school football team is following suit under the guidance of second-year head coach Aaron Paul. From the sound of it, it looks like the varsity Dogs will be looking forward to some strong teams in the near future. Paul gave us the skinny with these words, “The middle school football team is conducting summer workouts with about 45 kids attending each session. The young team had a great spring practice back in May. Key returning players are Key Malone, Rogers Clark, Zemarrion Little, Al Edwards, Dominic Frazzitta, Jacob Pritchett, and Chance Reid. Of the 45 kids total only seven are returning players. We have dozens of new talent that we are identifying and many of those will contribute this fall. We have Coach Harris Warbington running the offense again this year, along with coaches Alex Cooper and David Harper working with the offense and defense line. Brantley Frost will be helping with the receivers and defensive backs, and Rob Brown will take over the defense for the year. With an undefeated regular season last year, and one great play and eight seconds away from playing in the championship game we have set our standards very high this year. Our seven returning players have set a goal for this season and they are working extremely hard to get there. This is the strongest middle school team that I have been around in my three years working with middle school football, and we have a number of extremely talented kids. We are working to get better every day and to achieve our goals, but also to help these kids prepare for high school ball as they make the transition next year and the year after.”
Paul is also the boys’ soccer coach and was recently recognized as the coach-of-the-year after winning the 8-AAA region championship for 2017. “We have our kids’ soccer camp through the recreation department the last week of June 26th-30th. The camp is open to boys and girls and kids can sign up at the recreation department. It is a skills camp where the high school players will run drills and play games. It is a great time. I and the high school players have just as much fun, if not more, than the kids attending the camp,” said Paul.
The 2018 baseball squad also recently held their summer camp for youngsters with 79 participants ages 4-14 at the MCRD. Head Coach Merritt Ainslie weighed in on that camp saying, “It was a community service project for the players. Grant Cofer, Hunter Middlebrooks, Eric Brockman, Trey Patterson, Ethan Stamps, Hunter Lane, Jaron Ferguson were the players that helped. We worked on fundamentals and had a skills competition on the last day as well as a slip-n-slide.”
The Cross-Country runners have started their summer training under the direction of Head Coach Erin Spinks. She said, “Runners have started meeting me on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 6 a.m. for a workout and running. I’m so pleased with the determination to make sure our team is ready by August. Practices are not mandatory but I’ve had a great turnout. Our team will start working together in July! We are attending a FCA camp July 10-11. I cannot wait! This will be Cross-Country’s first year for camp! Morgan County is hosting the camp out at Lake Oconee! I’m thankful for FCA joining me in planning an awesome team building and running camp for our team!”
The Spirit Cheerleaders, led by Coach Denise Frost, are getting ready for football season and the opening of school while the Competition Team has just finished up its choreography camp with Coaches Leslie Watkins and Kelli White leading the way. Frost gave this update. “The MCHS Competition and Spirit Cheerleaders have been hard at work this summer. The competition team just finished their choreography camp provided by United Cheerleading with instructor, Marquis Strong. The team learned their complete competitive routine that they will use for the upcoming fall season. They will spend the summer perfecting the routine as well as conditioning and team bonding. The spirit cheerleaders also met last week to begin preparations for the upcoming football season. They spent two days painting spirit signs for the hallways and making football tags for the players. The spirit squad will be attending camp in July. Both squads are also preparing for our annual Kiddie Camp which will be held, July 10-15 at MCHS.”
Girls’ basketball is coming off another fantastic run into the Final Four this past year under veteran Josh Reeves. The basketball programs have both been powerhouses over the past several years at the state level. The girls will again be replacing some vital losses. Reeves thinks his team is up to the task. “We are practicing four times a week trying to get better with the middle school all the way up to the high school players. We played a day of team camp games at UGA against some good teams and are planning a couple of other days at Rockdale High School. The girls are just working hard every day to get better. We will be young, fast, and super athletic. The staff is pushing a lot of fundamentals and working them into our system.”
Volleyball is practicing on Mondays and Wednesdays with team camp planned for July. Coach Greg Thompson will again lead the region-winning squad this coming year.