I really enjoy talking with the student-athletes I cover here in Lake Country.
Many small, weekly papers only interview their areas’ coaches. That’s an OK approach to take and, during my first year at Lake Oconee News, that’s what I did, too, while I got my feet wet. But I’m happy to say we’ve raised the bar here at LON and, since I became ‘regional sports editor’ last year, at our sister paper The Eatonton Messenger.
It’s probably easier for me to interact with high school athletes because I’m still young enough that I’m not too far removed from high school myself. Even though, per Morgan softball coach Jason McBay, I’m an “elder” to these kids. *Shudders*
This approach has opened up numerous opportunities for me to tell great stories. I’m honored I get to be the person who officially records these things that will stand the test of time.
The last couple of weeks, I’ve written stories about the best softball teams in our area: Morgan and Lake Oconee Academy. The LOA story ran last week and the Morgan story is in this week’s paper.
Both of those stories contain a similar theme: The teams’ seasons have not been perfect, but both squads are performing at a high level.
I spoke with Lady Titans head coach Julie Brooker (who, in just three seasons, has really turned around the young program) and seniors Cory Kimbrough, Landon Beall and Kelli Stevens after their 11-6 win over Washington-Wilkes on Aug. 29.
I’ve interviewed those players a bunch of times, particularly the multi-sport athlete Stevens. I can’t remember having a bad interview with any of them. They always give me great stuff to use in my articles.
When we spoke that evening, however, I noticed a different spark in them. They talked just like they had played that afternoon: with a lot of looseness and a little bit of swagger. Not arrogance – moxie.
And they should’ve been feeling good. They had just rattled off five wins in their last seven games (and they later won their sixth in nine) and were at .500 or above the latest in any season they’ve played.
When those girls told me that they were pumped up by their recent success, I could feel it. Those good vibes will likely carry them to their best-ever season.
The Morgan softball team is feeling good about its standing, too.
I visited McBay and his crew Monday at practice. Afterward, I interviewed him, Bailey Nix, Zoey Brown and Mackenzie Torbush.
Same song, different verse: Those were not my first interviews with those senior Lady Dogs, but there was a twinkle in their eyes. They’ve been roughed up by the top three teams in the region (Jefferson, Jackson County and defending state champ Franklin County), but they are not shaken.
Unfortunately, I haven’t attended as many MOCO games as I would have liked so far, but I’ve seen the Lady Dogs’ offense crank out runs, at times, with more consistency than they did the last three seasons. From the outside looking in, those results were expected in previous seasons with power hitters in the lineup. Now, those players are gone and yet the current crop of Lady Dogs, more speedy than powerful, are finding ways to keep up the scoring.
It’s all about their mindset. Torbush, Brown and Nix all told me they and their teammates feel they can challenge any team in the region. Sure, they have areas of improvement, but if they can tighten up a few things, they feel they can upset the current top-tier programs in the upcoming region tournament.
And that’s not them looking ahead – that’s them looking at their current success and knowing they can sustain it.
I don’t know what the future holds for these two programs. All I can say for sure right now is that it’s a lot of fun covering them.
Confidence breeds success, and neither of these teams is short on those positive feelings. They’ve got me convinced they can do big things.
I hope they do, and I look forward to more exciting moments this season.