There’s a different mindset among this year’s Sprayberry softball players.
After enduring losing seasons for more than 10 straight years, the Lady Yellow Jackets are out to change their fortunes this season, and they have a talented new coach to support them.
Success at Sprayberry isn’t unprecedented. Prior to 2002, the Lady Yellow Jackets bested Brookwood 2-0 to win the 2001 Class AAAAA fastpitch championship, and made the 2000 Class AAAAA final where it lost 5-0 to Harrison.
The years since have been a struggle for the Lady Yellow Jackets. However, under first-year coach Nickie Rogers, Sprayberry is undergoing a renaissance at the plate, in the circle and on the field as it competes for its first playoff spot since going 0-2 in the Class AAAAA elite eight finals in 2002.
“I’m ready for the challenge,” said Rogers, who is in her first season as a head coach after spending the last 16 years as an assistant at Dawson County. “The kids were hungry to learn here. Everything that I’ve brought in, they’ve embraced. I’m really excited about the opportunity to come here.
“The drills and the conditioning, they appreciate it. If we get beat, it’s because the other team had better talent, not because we weren’t conditioned or we didn’t have the heart to win.”
Rogers grew up playing softball in Arizona before moving to Georgia when she was 14-years-old. She played collegiately at Georgia State, and later laid the groundwork in building Dawson’s County’s softball team.
Familiar with the east Cobb area and what the players had to offer, Rogers took a chance and took over the Sprayberry program when it needed a new coach.
“I thought it was a good place with talent to foster and help grow,” she said. “After seeing the talent that we have, there’s no reason to think we can’t make the state playoffs.”
The results prove what Rogers believes. Sprayberry started the season 5-0 and collected three shutout victories prior to a three-game skid that has the Lady Yellow Jackets 5-3 overall. More importantly, however, Sprayberry is 4-1 in Region 7AAAAA action heading into tonight’s matchup at Forsyth Central.
“We know we can be a contender,” Rogers said. “The girls aren’t fazed by other teams.”
With a roster that includes five seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen, Sprayberry is slowly changing the way other teams perceive it. “We’re solid on defense,” Rogers said.
“The girls work hard and just do it. What I put in front of them, they do.”
Rogers believes in a full team, but credits senior outfielders K.K.
Breh and Jen Gentile, junior third baseman Kierston Moore, junior pitcher Charlie Smith and freshman shortstop Payton Wade as her “temp changers.” A four-year varsity member and three-year starter, Breh is excited to have Rogers at the helm.
“She’s whipping us into shape and where we need to be,” Breh said.
“We’ve conditioned a lot more and that’s helped.
She’s worked on our endurance and we’re more of a family because of it.
“In the past, we’ve been more like friends on and off the field, but this year, the chemistry is the best it’s ever been.”
Gentile, another four-year varsity member and three-year starter, also appreciates what Rogers has brought to the program.
“This summer, we worked out in the weight room with one of the football coaches and we ran,” she said. “We didn’t get that kind of conditioning in the past, so it was tough to play games back-to-back like teams do in tournaments and the playoffs.
“She’s brought a lot of different aspects and improved our ability to play the game. I’m not surprised at our start.
During the offseason, I saw how hard we were working. I knew we had the talent and coach Rogers is putting it together.”
Gentile has also noticed the difference in chemistry between her and her teammates.
“I think we can win the region and go to state because we’re not a team, we’re a family,” she said.
“We know our weaknesses and our strengths and we can pick each other up when we’re down.”