Teams to Watch
Gordon Lee. The Lady Trojans may not score as many runs as they did a year ago, but with two pitchers who were a combined 38-0 returning, they won't need to.
Heritage. The Generals were disappointed with a playoff run that ended short of Columbus, and if the pitching holds up they likely will make up for it this year.
Northwest Whitfield. The Lady Bruins experienced growing pains last year that should pay off handsomely this season with every player returning.
Players to Watch
Emily Boyd, Northwest Whitfield. Last season's lenthening of the pitching distance threw her powerful game off for a while, but she ended the season on a dominant note and is poised to pick right back up.
Brandy Goldsmith, Heritage. The senior is the spark plug of the Generals' attack coming off a season in which she hit .473 with 43 runs scored and 33 RBIs while also playing stellar a shortstop.
Adrian Thornton, Ringgold. The ultimate leadoff hitter, this senior outfielder hit .531 and stole 30 bases last year as the catalyst for the Lady Tigers' unexpected run to Columbus.
The Gordon Lee Lady Trojans enter the 2011 softball season on a 38-game winning streak after becoming the first Georgia team to complete an undefeated season.
But how do they follow that? Coach Dana Mull said a repeat undefeated year is not something the Chickamauga team thinks about, but the main goal remains the same.
"Of course, a state championship is what we always shoot for, but this is a new season and we can't worry about what happened last year," said Mull, whose team not surprisingly enters the year ranked No. 1 in the coaches' Class A state poll. "We've got teams like Buford on our schedule this year so that we can get better at the end of the season."
Buford is the opponent for the Lady Trojans' season opener Monday.
Gordon Lee does have a couple of holes to fill, including replacing North Georgia player of the year Holli Brooks, but with pitchers Brenna Nation (23-0, 0.69 ERA) and Kalei Kimbrell (15-0, 0.92) returning along with six other regulars, the Lady Trojans are the early class of Class A.
They are not the area's only state-title hopefuls, however. The northwest Georgia area has at least one championship-caliber team in each of four classifications, including two from tough Region 7-AAA: defending region champion Heritage and upstart Ringgold.
Heritage, 30-6 last year, must replace three-year starting pitcher Marissa Patterson, but eight starters return, including all-star shortstop Brandy Goldsmith. Ringgold, which reached the Elite Eight in Columbus a year ago after a strong regular-season finish, lost only one starter from a year ago and returns pitcher Kensey Sholl and exciting outfielder Adrian Thornton (.531 average, 30 steals).
Those two Catoosa County schools will have to deal with Allatoona, last year's state runner-up.
"Allatoona finished second in the state and Ringgold finished fifth, so both have to be considered region powerhouses this coming year," Heritage coach Steve Chattin said. "We would like to think that we are right there in the mix as defending region champs. The girls have continued to work hard in the offseason and summer, and expectations are high. Anything less than a return to the state tournament will be a disappointment."
Northwest Whitfield returns every player from last year's 20-13 team in Class AAAA -- and still has no seniors. Pitcher Emily Boyd, the 2009 North Georgia player of the year as a freshman, leads the way along with third baseman Mykeah Johnson and second baseman Karlie Henson.
Region 7-AA again should be the state's best in that class, and though defending champion Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe had heavy graduation losses, Calhoun appears ready to step to the front. Pitchers Shyanne Dobson and Alyssa Shawgo return from last year's playoff team, as do four .400-hitting regulars.