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Varsity Softball Facing Its Toughest Schedule

Last year, for the first time in many seasons, the Comets’ varsity softball team did not capture either the regular season or tournament titles in the Western Valley District. This year the Comets face perhaps their toughest schedule ever in their efforts to capture one of those two automatic berths to the Northwest Region playoffs.

Eight seniors played their last games in a Comets’ uniform last season, including Whitney Womack, Betty Rose, Paige Rickman, Christine DeGeorgis, Melissa Morris, Kim Snead, Lauren Daniel and Lyndsay Lawter.

Those remaining, in addition to a number of first-year varsity players, have a tough task ahead of them, but head softball coach Melanie Saunders thinks the Comets are up to the challenge.

“Coach Lawter (HCHS Athletic Director Allen Lawter) has really blessed us this year with probably the toughest schedule in my 16 years of coaching,” said Saunders.

“We may look bad as far as ratings or record early on, but as far as the competition goes we’re going to go after it to prepare for our district.”

Halifax County defeated C.D. Hylton in the first round of the regionals last year before falling to state semifinalist Battlefield on the same day, and Saunders has always believed in a tough non-district schedule to prepare her team for the district schedule and beyond.

She got her wish this year and then some.

“This is by far the toughest pre-district slate of games we’ve ever had since I’ve been coaching.”

“We don’t usually face teams like Battlefield until late in the year and it’s tough to prepare for teams like that if you don’t play them in the regular season.”
Halifax County, which plays its first seven games on the road, plays in two non-district tournaments and faces high-quality teams like Battlefield, Albemarle, Mountain View, Person High, and Jefferson Forest, so there’s nothing the Comets can look ahead to and say it’s an easy win, according to Saunders.

“It’s a tough schedule, and as coaches we like seeing that.  The tough competition is going to prepare us to get through the district and hopefully past the district.”

“You play a tough schedule during the season but don’t see for the most part teams as tough as those in the Northern part of the state,” commented Saunders.

Tri-captains Jessie Bagbey, Stephanie Clark and Johanna Spencer return for their senior seasons, as do seniors Megan Day and Kisha Crowder and juniors Jameshia Smith and Jamilia Smith.

Sophomore Sydney Puryear returns, and juniors Brittany Long, Caitlin Lawhorn and Jill Trickey move up from the jayvees this season, as do sophomores Jennifer Lacks, Verlisha Brandon and Samantha Gibson.

The Comets came out on the short end last year against rival Franklin County in games both for the regular season and tournament championships, but this year is focused on reversing those results.

“We had some games where we made some serious miscues at the wrong times, and that’s how it goes sometimes,” said Saunders, who likes the attitude her team has displayed thus far in practice.

“This year we’ve come out with positive attitudes and we’ve really been working hard, despite not being outside a great deal.

“We were able to get that scrimmage in (win against Randolph-Henry), and they had four pitchers for us to see.

“It’s not the level of pitching we’ll see at the regionals, but it got us started in seeing live pitching.”

Saunders likes the team chemistry and work ethic demonstrated thus far both in the weight room and on the practice field.

“The girls have been in the weight room, and done a lot of conditioning to get them ready for the season, so when practice started we could go right into the fundamentals of softball,” she said.

“You can tell the girls have really been pushing it and working hard.

“It’s not about one person’s batting average or statistics, but about the team and what happens at the end.”

“Clark, Spencer and Bagbey, our tri-captains, definitely know what we expect as coaches from the program, and what we expect from the players,” Saunders explained.

“They’re very strong in their leadership and we train each one of our athletes to be captains and look out for one another in drills and stations, as well as give constructive criticism.”

Halifax will be tested early with seven consecutive road games to start the season, but the team is capable of handling that assignment,” Saunders emphasized.

“We’re reiterating to them we want the whole package, not just with the girls being great softball players but also excelling in the classroom and the community,” noted Saunders.

“We have a long stretch on the road to start, but to us it doesn’t make much difference where we play, and we seem to play well on the road anyway.
“I think it’ll make us stronger, and we hope to use this to our advantage.

“I’ve seen them a little more pumped up for the season after what happened last year with losing both the regular season and tournament titles to Franklin County and we especially see it with our seniors, who know this is their last go-around.  They want to go out strong.”

All in all the Comets have the right ingredients, but Saunders noted several players may alternate between the varsity and jayvee teams toward the end benefiting both the team and individual player.

“If we see someone from the jayvees we think can be successful at the varsity level, we’ll bring them up and if we see someone who can be more successful at the jayvee level, we’ll move them down.

“It’s all designed to make the whole program better and to put the player at the best possible place for them to improve and help the program, as well as get the best out of themselves.”

The Western Valley District is as tough as it’s been in several years, with Franklin County, Patrick Henry and GW perhaps the toughest opponents the Comets must face this season.

Despite its youth, Saunders thinks the team is headed in the right direction as it travels to Heritage today for its season-opener.

“We’ve got some younger kids this year.  We’re used to having more returning players, but the older kids are trying to lead the kids in the right direction,” explained Saunders.

“The younger kids are also getting used to us as coaches, and we have very high expectations for them both on and off the field.”