Lady 'Clones set to challenge for Watauga title

By Ivan Sanders
STAR CORRESPONDENT
isanders@starhq.com

   There will be some of the same faces from last year, only under new leadership as Angie Barker has been hastily preparing her Elizabethton team to be in the upper echelon of the Watauga Conference race despite the fact there are only three seniors and four juniors with the remaining squad composed of sophomores and freshmen.
   Yet, the optimism around the Lady Cyclone compound has been one of encouragement as Barker has surrounded herself with some of the best assistant coaches in the area. Barker will be looking at the years of knowledge her assistants have gained from the sport of softball in an effort to mold the Lady Cyclones into a challenger against solid District 1-AA teams like powerhouse Unicoi County and an always talented Happy Valley team.
   "You can't fail by surrounding yourself with smart people that know the sport," said Barker. "I feel like I have some of the best assistant coaches you can get."
   One of the coaches that Coach Barker has nabbed is Georgia native Melissa McClain, who played four seasons at Tusculum College and now resides in Carter County. McClain is a defensive-minded coach who will look to develop the team into a rock-solid, fundamentally sound team while in the field.
   "I am going to try and help out a lot on the defensive side of the field," stated McClain. "I will be watching their performance and then let them know the areas where I see them lacking and help them to correct those areas."
   The other two assistants are Amy Richardson, who will be dedicating her time to the catchers, and a familiar name in ex-Lady Cyclone fireballing pitcher Brandi Fairman, a 2002 graduate of EHS who works with the pitchers as well as throwing batting practice.
   Leading the Lady Cyclone charge this season will be seniors Michelle Collins, Sarah Smith and Brittany Hilton. These seniors will be looked to lead the from the defensive side of the field as Collins will man the hot spot at third, Smith roaming the middle of the field from her shortstop position, and Hilton handling the catching chores for the young Lady Cyclone hurlers.
   "Smith is a very strong player at short and can lend some help in the outfield with Collins possessing a very strong bat and being a very smart infielder," said Barker. "Brittany is a true leader from behind the plate and is a very vocal player which you really need from your catcher."
   Many people think to have a successful program, you need to have excellent pitching and a strong defense. Elizabethton will be looking at three young pitchers to carry the load this season, but don't let their youthfulness be deceitful.
   Sophomores Kristi Keys and Sarah Ruston are quality pitchers with Keys being able to bring the mail while Ruston will use ball movement to be effective. Freshman Jessica Robinson will also be seeing action from the hill, who according to Coach Barker, brings a good presence to the mound and is able to hit her spots really well.
   Others looking to contribute to the success of the team will be Abbie Jenkins, Katie Hubbard, Whitney Lyons, Maggie Austin, Valerie Kauffeld and Ashley Cline.
   One very critical aspect to the success of this year's team will be its ability to put aside the individualistic traits that girls often pick up while on league teams in which they are often looked to as the go-to player, and mesh together as a single, solid unit in pursuit of the conference title.
   Said Barker and McClain: "If we can get these girls to play as a team and not play a game from an individualistic viewpoint we can compete with anyone. If we get wrapped up in playing just my game instead of our game then we will not accomplish the objectives we're after."
   The future looks very promising for the EHS girls' softball program as many talented young players are beginning to learn the game and with the type of leadership athletic director Larry Alderson has placed over the program, the sky is the limit.
   "I am very excited about this season," stated Barker. "Our parents have really gotten behind us as they come out to work on the field, operate the concession stand, and do the fundraising we need to get us through the season which takes a huge load off our shoulders as coaches."
   Added Barker: "It doesn't hurt either when you have a coachable bunch of girls like we have on this team this season."