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All Bases Covered

Feb. 5, 2011

Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Legendary Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver once described his team’s seemingly endless bench by declaring, “We have deep depth.”

Georgia Tech Softball Head Coach Sharon Perkins believes she can make a similar description of her 2011 team, which screams versatility.

A look at the roster shows more slashes than a Friday the 13th movie. Four different players — freshman Ashley Thomas (SS/2B), sophomore Caitlin Jordan (3B/1B), junior Kate Kuzma, and senior Kristen Adkins (P/3B) — are listed as playing more than one position. Then there’s junior Shannon Bear, who is listed as utility, which requires her to don multiple hats, and a pair of freshmen Alysha Rudnik, who catches but also has taken grounders at third base, and Hayley Downs, who has caught fungoes all around the outfield. That’s seven players out of 18 who can fill in where needed.

“I think versatility is important,” said Perkins, whose team opens play next weekend in Clermont, Fla., as part of the Dot Richardson NTC Elite Tournament, which also includes Florida Atlantic, Chattanooga and Fordham (games will be broadcast on RamblinWreck.com). “It helps to give you more options for lineups based off of offense. You never know when a major injury will occur, knock on wood, or who is on a hot streak hitting. I also believe it makes you a better all-around player by knowing the jobs of the other positions.”

The players like the diversity of talent that can be dispersed into any necessary gaps. Closing those gaps could go a long way in making sure the rest of the ACC doesn’t close the gap between themselves and Tech, the two-time defending ACC Champ and unanimous pick for a third by the conference’s coaches.

“I know that a problem with our team is that we’ve had a lot of injuries in the past,” said Kuzma, who starts at primarily at catcher but gets time in left field, and has been one of those players who has gotten banged up in the past. “It’s nice to know that people are stepping up that can play multiple positions. So, say if I got hurt, we would have Jessica Weaver and [Alysha] Rudnick who could take over that position. Say Kelsi Weseman got hurt, we have Shannon Bear that we can move around in there. So we have depth and we’re not just relying on a set of nine people. We know that we have other people that can do just as well if we mix them in.”

“This year we have a lot of people moving around, a lot of depth pretty much across the board,” added Bear, who can play either middle-infield or corner outfield spot. “We have people that can play a lot of different positions and fill in wherever anything’s needed. That gives us a lot of confidence that we’re not stuck with nine players that have to play, have to be okay. We have a lot of people that are great at a lot of positions and can fill in as necessary.”

Bear took an interesting road to becoming the rover of the team. She was primarily an outfielder during her travel ball days and years at Grayson High School (also attended by Downs), until her coach, Troy Pirkle, changed her way of thinking one day during a practice.

“We were doing just a little bit of infield drills, the whole team was doing it,” she recalled. “My coach asked me why I was wasting my infield talent in the outfield. I kind of laughed but it kind of put in my head that I could do that and be successful at it. By the time I was a sophomore, I was the shortstop. Since then, I’ve been moving around second, short, outfield.”

She’s now taking her talents to any of several spots that Perkins needs.

Shannon Bear is one of our versatile players,” said the Jackets head coach. “It works to her advantage because she has the ability to play many positions on the field. She works in the infield as well as the outfield and does so with a smile on her face.”

Although she admits to being a planner, Bear admits that the ability to change on the fly once arriving at the park makes every game day interesting.

“I’m a planner but I think that it also brings a little aspect of fun and surprise to every game,” she said. “I like to have maybe a LITTLE BIT of advance, like, say, before a game, just kind of know what to expect. But at the same time, I’m fine with adjusting to whatever happens. I think I adjust well. I’m really easy-going, so if there’s some adversity, I’ll try to overcome it and adjust to that.”

The adjustment to the outfield from behind the plate has become easier for Kuzma, who credits her overall athletic ability for being able to transition from the constant motion of catching to the more reactive play in the outfield.

“I know people, when you get to this level, are either just specific in one position, like they either pitch really well or they’re just a really good hitter,” she said. “I’ve always been an athlete. I’ve been able to play basketball, I’ve been able to play tennis, I’ve been able to swim and play softball. So I know how to move my body to do different things. Versatility is a great thing because it does keep me in the lineup. If I wasn’t able to play another position I’d be sitting out every other game or being a DP maybe every other game. So I may not be the best at it but it does keep me interactive and keep me in the game, which I really like.”

With a week until the first action and less than a month from the home opener, the newcomers are progressing quite nicely as far as preparedness to answer any call.

“I think that they’ve done well so far,” said Bear. “Alysha has a really good mindset between catching and third base. She does well at both. Ashley moves between both middle infield positions with ease and Hayley in the outfield, she moves around well. They’ve all really come into their roles and are doing great.”

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