After getting a sample of Murfreesboro last season, Sequatchie County High School's loaded softball team was amped up and ready to take a swing at a Class AA state championship this year.
Looking to build off last year's 33-12 record that included a 22-game winning streak and a fourth-place finish at the TSSAA Spring Fling, a motivated group returning all but one starter had a newfound swagger.
"Last year we got up there and it was every kid's first time being at state, so they were a little nervous and content with (just) being there," coach Kelly Somerville said. "This year our team had a whole different mindset. We believed in ourselves in a way we didn't last year, when we were trying to prove ourselves. We were ready to go out and make the other teams beat us."
The coronavirus pandemic, as it did to every Tennessee softball team dreaming of a state title this year, ended that quest before it could get started in earnest.
Sequatchie's Mackenzie Turner was phenomenal in the pitching circle as a junior, with her 23 wins leading all players in the Chattanooga area in 2019. The Roane State signee also spearheaded offseason workouts for a team focused on earning the program's first state title since 1990.
Everything looked to be in place with a stout lineup that included both speed and power to go with strong fielding, with the defensive effort led by a pair of seniors — second baseman Peyton Longson and third baseman Abbie McGowan.
"I miss those girls because I am used to being with them all day long this time of the year," Somerville said. "They worked so hard this offseason, and they were all coming back stronger than last season. To see them buy in to it all and have a team good enough to make a state championship run and not get a chance is heartbreaking."
Destiny also seemed to be on their side. Thirty years ago, it was Somerville's father, Pete Swafford, who coached the Sequatchie softball program to its lone state championship.
"When they won the state title that year, I was the youngest of two daughters and I was in kindergarten," Somerville said. "This year, I have two girls and my youngest daughter is in kindergarten. It's kind of like this full circle moment that was happening and all the stars were aligning."
Longson was a three-sport athlete for Sequatchie who helped her soccer team to a state sectional appearance and also played basketball, as did speedy sisters Addy and Ella Edgmon, both of whom have committed to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball program.
College softball is in the future of all three Sequatchie seniors, too. Longson signed with Cleveland State, and McGowan will play for Jackson State.
With high expectations to live up to next season, those will return are excited for 2021 and not letting the lost season bring them down.
"In my mailbox, I got a letter from Cali Green, and she told me she knows what's on her shoulders and is going to do everything she can to be ready for us next year," Somerville said of the versatile player who has committed to Bryan College. "Ella Edgmon also wrote me and said she was fired up and ready for next year.
"Making excuses is not how we do things. This year is teaching all of them resilience. I told them the next time you are given a chance, take it and run with it. I don't think our girls will ever take another moment for granted. They are going to be working hard and enjoy every moment."