Sequatchie County may not be favored to win the Gold division in the 21st Lady Trojan Classic this weekend at the Soddy Lake Kids' Park, but the Lady Indians have Emily Dagnan, so they have a puncher's chance.
Dagnan is an accomplished boxer in addition to being the starting catcher on her high school softball team. This weekend her concentration won't be trying to get knockouts but rather trying to knock pitches out.
Sequatchie County is set to take on Bradley Central at 9 a.m. when today's pool play begins. Grace Academy defeated host Soddy-Daisy 3-0 in the tournament opener Thursday. The last five of the 48 pool-play games are slated to start tonight at 9.
Based on pool records, teams will be placed into Gold and Silver brackets for single-elimination play beginning Saturday at 9 a.m. The championship games in both divisions are scheduled for about 6 p.m.
Dagnan was in her early elementary school years when she first played organized softball in a coach-pitch league, making the commute to Trenton, Ga., from Jasper, Tenn. She began taking boxing seriously when she was 11.
Her father, Dale, has a boxing background and helps out often at Chattanooga's Westside Boxing Club, where his daughter trains. Emily's brother, Isaiah, also works out there.
"She just showed up," Westside trainer Andy Smith said of his first recollection of Emily. "She was always tough, full of fight. She's real strong. She's a puncher. She's not afraid to get hit, either. That's always a plus. We're working hard on improving her speed. We'd like to see her get a little bit faster, but she's got all the tools."
Sequatchie softball coach Courtney Stewart said Dagnan is so dedicated to improving as a catcher, she watches TV in a squatting position.
"She definitely can play at the next level, if that's something she intends to do," Stewart said. "As much as she's worked at it, I assume she does."
The 16-year-old junior is in her first year at Sequatchie after transferring from Marion County. She said she plans to seek college softball offers and has some lofty goals in boxing as well. Her coaches in both sports agree they don't want her to give up one sport for the other.
"She seems to balance both of them very well," Smith said.
Stewart said she's also a top-performing student and has a part-time job on weekends when she's not involved in athletics.
Dagnan's top prize in boxing so far is a bronze medal from the Junior Olympic National Championships last summer at Camp LeJeune, N.C. This softball season she's batting .417. Her nine extra-base hits and 21 RBIs are team highs.
"I really don't know which one I like best," Dagnan said. "I've been playing softball longer, but I couldn't choose between the two."
Next weekend Dagnan will be competing in the 75th Chattanooga Golden Gloves at the Brainerd Recreation Complex. Stewart said there's a curiousity about her other craft, particularly because she's the quiet type who wears ribbons in her hair, so the softball team is arranging a trip for the event.
"She doesn't talk about it as much as we ask," Stewart said.
After softball season ends in May, Dagnan's focus will turn to training for the USA Boxing National Championships held June 20-25 in Colorado Springs, Colo. Dagnan hopes eventually to compete in the Olympics, but winning a national title is her more immediate goal.
In addition to the training she's received from Smith, Dagnan said she's also learned from successful veteran male Westside fighters Ryan Martin and Roger Hilley. Her sparring partner is 14-year-old, 85-pounder Slade Corvin. Dagnan fights in the 132-pound weight class and Smith said Corvin's speed and power are about equal to that of a 130-pound female fighter.
Women's boxing will be featured for the first time at an Olympics in 2012 in London. Bouts will take place in the 132-, 152- and 178-pound weight classes in what Smith calls "sort of a trial run" to see what interest it generates and whether Olympic officials want to expand to all 10 in the future.
With hers being one of the weight classes in the London Games, Dagnan could realize her boxing dream sooner rather than later. And if she needs a softball substitute during her down time, "Cricket, anyone?"
"You definitely have to work hard to do softball and boxing," Dagnan said. "It's kind of hard to get them both in. It keeps me busy. I enjoy it all."