Jan. 15, 2012
By: Jon Cooper
– Thinking about softball in January is a nice way to beat the winter blahs.
Thinking about softball, not actually playing it.
Face it, January is cold, no matter where you are, even Atlanta, where this past week temperatures fought to get into the 40s.
But Georgia Tech Softball was out at Mewborn Field this past week, holding its inaugural practices for the 2012 season.
“I was kind of wishing I was a basketball coach or a volleyball coach today. I think I chose the wrong sport,” kidded Head Coach Sharon Perkins on Friday. “We could play in the football practice facility. We could fit in there, right?”
“We’ve been stuck inside because the field was wet because of all the rain,” she added. “So this is really our first defensive day. So they’re excited to get out there.”
Perkins knows that warmer days are coming. She also knows that the schedule won’t wait and her squad couldn’t wait to get out and get the 2012 season going.
So what if players could see their breath even while being short of it while running conditioning drills. It was nothing a few layers of Under Armour couldn’t cure.
“I just put a lot of layers on. I think today I have three layers on,” said senior shortstop, 2011 First-Team All-American and 2011 ACC Player of the Year Kelsi Weseman prior to Friday’s practice. “I don’t think it really affects the way we play. Maybe just run a little faster trying to warm up.”
“There’s a lot of cold gear being put on today, that’s for sure,” said senior first baseman Caroline Hilton. “But once you get moving around, focused on softball it won’t be too bad. Once you start doing drills you forget about the temperature and focus on what you’re doing.”
The bright sun cruelly masked biting winds and frosty temperatures, but the team, fueled by the excitement of getting on the field as a team and the desire of this team’s potential for the new season trumped any thoughts of the present.
Pitching Coach Shaina Ervin said she didn’t expect the weather to play much of a role in how the team used its pitchers.
“They may take some more time to warm up but really their pitching workouts depend on whether they’re going to throw live to batters or not,” she said. “This weekend they will, so today they’ll do a light work out. So it won’t be too much on their arm. but whether it’s cold or hot they still have to ice afterwards.”
Ervin, who admitted she was quite layered up, recalled how she handled the cold during her playing days at N.C. State.
“I get really cold really easily. In 30 minutes being out there my lips will be blue,” she said. “The biggest thing is keeping your hands warm, so you’ll blow on them a lot. I wore a fleece winter glove on my left hand in my glove. I actually ended up wearing that all season one year because I played really well. So it was a superstition. But it kept [my glove hand] warm and then just gripping the ball the whole time it sort of kept [my throwing hand] warm. But you’ve got to bear the elements because everybody else has to do it.”
Regardless of whether the glove-within-a-glove approach catches on — Weseman, for one, said she’s uncomfortable with it — the sense of urgency in getting off to a fast start has.
Perkins knows how quickly time can slip away, and is taking care of her preseason checklist. The main points on Friday were defense and the team didn’t hit at all — a relief for anyone who’s ever felt the sting of hitting an inside pitch off the hands.
“I know what we need to work on,” Perkins said. “So you get out and you think about the things you need to work on — the pickoffs, first-and-thirds and different situational things to try to start kind of checking them off your list before game one.”
Being ready to hit the ground running this season will be crucial, as the schedule is front-loaded with powerhouses.
“Our first couple of weekends are pretty tough, which I think we needed,” Perkins said. “I think we’re ready for that. We have a new strength coach and she’s been great. I think one of our goals was to be tougher overall. So I think mentally we’re a lot stronger and playing a schedule like this will prepare us for the ACC season. After that, hopefully we’ll be better prepared for postseason, playing some of these teams.”
Tech’s first three tournaments, the Kajikawa Classic (Feb. 10-12 in Tempe, Ariz.), the ACC/SEC/Big 12 Challenge (Feb. 17-19 in Auburn, Ala.) and the NFCA Leadoff Classic (Feb. 24-26 in Clearwater, Fla.) will see the the Jackets play 10 teams that participated in the 2011 NCAA Tournament (Arizona, San Diego State, Nebraska, Auburn, Alabama, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, DePaul, Tennessee and Illinois State), with three that reached the College World Series (Alabama, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State).
That means that in the first three weeks of the season Tech will get a shot at the two teams that beat them in last year’s NCAA’s (Oklahoma State and Tennessee). That should further fire up the troops. And while they know this year’s games can’t take back last year’s losses, wins this time around can set a positive tone going forward.
“You’re going to have to play the Pac-12 and the SEC in the postseason,” said Hilton. “You might as well play them during the regular season and help us get prepared for postseason.”
“We have a really tough schedule this year so I think right now we’re focusing more on the early part of the season,” said Weseman. “Obviously, down the road, our goals are the ACC Tournament, then Regionals, Super Regionals and the World Series. But right now we’re just working on getting ready for those first games. It’s definitely going to be fun to see some good softball and play in hopefully warmer weather.”