CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. -- Most softball coaches with seven new starters would want to begin a high school season with a few low-pressure games, the better to build a little confidence.
But when you're the Gordon Lee Lady Trojans and coming off back-to-back Class A state championships, there are few, if any, low-pressure games. So when coach Dana Mull noticed that the team's first five opponents this season were ranked in higher classifications, the veteran coach didn't blink an eye.
It's not just that Mull wants to test her relatively young team, it's that in Class A this season, playing -- and defeating -- good teams is a priority with the split of public and private schools for the postseason. Teams that do not win their regions will have to qualify based on a power rating system that factors in wins against opponents in higher classifications.
After winning four of those first five, including defeats of Class AAAA power Marist and Class AAA's Ringgold, Mull was more than a little pleased.
"We always want to play as good a competition as we can, but with this crazy power-rating system we've got to play good teams," Mull said. "I'm happy so far, but there are definitely some things we can improve on."
Pitching would be an expected concern after two-time Class A Pitcher of the Year Brenna Nation graduated. However, senior Kalei Kimbrell has bided her time as the Lady Trojans' No. 2 pitcher the last three seasons and is ready, she says, to become more of a factor on and off the field.
"Being the only senior on the team, I want to be a leader; that's part of my job this year, " she said. "There's definitely more pressure on me, but I think I'm ready for it."
The numbers back up Kimbrell. Her past two seasons have produced a 28-1 record with an ERA under 0.75. It's off the field where she may make the biggest difference this year, according to her coach.
"Having Kalei means a great deal to the team since she brings a lot of experience from the past couple of years," Mull said. "This young team needed someone to show them the ropes, and Kalei has stepped up and has become a great leader. The team respects her and responds well to her."
Mull also appreciates the fact that Kimbrell was willing to serve her apprenticeship and play whatever role was needed while Nation was starting most of the big games.
"Kalei could have been most teams' best pitcher during her sophomore and junior years," Mull said. "And she's just a winner."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.