Athleticism key ingredient for Lady Cyclones

By Ivan Sanders
STAR CORRESPONDENT
isanders@starhq.com

   Just like the television show MacGyver, the Lady Cyclone softball team will have to rely on the small, simple tools if they are to break out and make a run for the conference title.
   Lacking a player that can consistently take the ball deep, the Lady Cyclones realize that skills like bunting and running the bases will be the key for their success this year. If you were to ask Coach Gerald Jenkins about that, he probably would respond with: "That's the way I like it."
   "We're not going to hit the ball a ton," stated Jenkins. "Running bases and playing good defense is what we are going to stress."
   Elizabethton, in comparison to other teams, will be physically smaller, but the Lady Cyclones will keep the opposing team mentally stressed with all the athleticism they possess.
   Said Jenkins: "I'm telling you we have some real athletes represented here by these ladies. They can run, catch the ball and make great throws, and make good contact with the bat. Our bunting abilities allow us to do many things against our opponents."
   Jenkins will be looking to three key returning players to lead the team by example this season. Brandy Fairman, who came on strong with her pitching last season, Michelle Collins and Sarah Smith will have to be instrumental if the Cyclones have any success this season.
   "Brandy is the type of player that will put the team on her back and carry them," said Jenkins. "Michelle and Sarah are probably the two toughest infield players in the conference from the left side."
   Others that will be a factor for the Lady Cyclones to have a banner year are senior Jamie Kyte at second, senior outfielders Rachel Pierce and Stephanie Cline, and junior Brittany Hilton, who moved from second base to handling the pitchers from the catcher slot.
   Speaking of pitching, there will be plenty of backup for Fairman when needed. Kyte can come in from her second base position as well as two new faces in Cyclone uniforms this year -- freshmen Sarah Ruston and Kristie Keys.
   "I am really excited about these two freshmen pitchers -- Ruston and Keys," stated Jenkins. "Not only will Keys be an asset on the hill, but she can also play first or second base."
   Jenkins is still looking to fill the center field position, but said that Abbie Jenkins has been looking pretty decent there if she can get her bat more active.
   Glancing over the conference, Coach Jenkins feels that Unicoi County will be the one team to watch.
   "Unicoi returns a very talented, strong team from post-season play last year," said Jenkins. "Volunteer and Happy Valley are two teams that also could wreak havoc in this league."
   Central moves over into the new conference with EHS, and Jenkins feels they also have a bunch of talent if they can get it together. North is a darkhorse, as the Cyclone mentor doesn't know what to expect from the Lady Raiders.
   Jenkins, entering his second full year at the helm of the Lady Cyclones, feels like this could be a good year for the ladies wearing the orange and black.
   Said Jenkins: "I really think we have a good team. These kids don't care where I put them, they just want to play. Their parents probably don't like me switching them around, but these girls always worry about the team above their own personal desires."
   The Lady Cyclones are hoping to continue on with the success they experienced at the end of last season. They return virtually the whole team with the exception of two or three players who completed their careers last year.
   Added Jenkins: "You know, we finished seventh in the league last year, but we came on strong in the tournament. We eliminated Boone and East, who had defeated us twice in regular season, and only needed a hit with runners at third with no outs to defeat Tennessee High. We proved to ourselves we can compete and I believe that this year will be no different."
   It should be an interesting season for the Lady Cyclones, as they no longer have to contend with the likes of Tennessee High, Dobyns-Bennett or Boone.
   Their success will hinge on their ability to manufacture runs without needing a long ball to win the game. If all the pieces of the puzzle come together just right, the sky will be the limit for the Lady Cyclone softball program in 2002.