Jan. 23, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
It’s difficult to make any kind of definitive statements for the 53-game season ahead only two weeks into practice, but you can read trends. Eight practices in, Georgia Tech softball coach Shelly Hoerner is seeing positive signs her team is headed in the right direction for 2015.
Hoerner, whose team went 23-24 (11-17 in ACC play), in her debut season on The Flats, is an advocate of positive thinking and always is optimistic at this time of year, but her 15 years as a head coach also have given her the wisdom to discern fool’s gold from the real thing and the patience to allow her and her staff’s long-term vision for the team to fall into place.
Both her wisdom and patience will be paramount this season as the Yellow Jackets prepare for 2015. It will be the Jackets’ first season in four that they won’t have 2013 ACC player of the Year and two-time All-ACC shortstop Ashley Thomas, two All-ACC First Team catcher Alysha Rudnik, defensive wiz and offensive sparkplug centerfielder Hayley Downs and speedy outfielder and pinch-running specialist Kaitlin Kates. They also return only one veteran pitcher, rubber-armed senior Kylie Kleinschmidt and will be working in six freshmen.
Hoerner was her optimistic, albeit realistic, self as she gave The Good Word an early look at the 2015 Jackets.
THE GOOD WORD: How have things looked early on and how have the upperclassmen come to the forefront after the loss of the four seniors from last year?
COACH HOERNER: We’ve been in practice just about two weeks, probably about eight practices. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But we’re coming along nicely as a team. I think we’re communicating a lot better. We do look a lot sharper than we ever have looked. I say we have a lot of work to do but we’re gelling together, which is really good. Our upperclassmen are really leading our underclassmen. Everyone has come back in good shape so we’re able to spend time on the little things that we need to work on. Everyone on the team is doing extra work and I think that’s important because within a three-hour timeframe for practice we’re not getting enough reps. So they do spend time before and after practice. When one person does it it’s stemming to the whole team and everyone is putting in that extra time to get better on the little things we need to get better on. They’re buying in to what we’re doing and buying into the culture that we want to establish here at Georgia Tech.
TGW: How do you see the pitching staff shaping up behind Kylie Kleinschmidt?
HOERNER: The staff is looking good right now. The freshmen came back in really good shape and Kylie’s just a workhorse. They all came back in good shape. Their balls are moving. Obviously, it’s a long season and we look at, `Yes, they’re freshmen. But they are ballplayers.’ The freshmen pitchers are doing a good job and I think the whole staff has bought into that `staff mentality.’ We’re going to need the whole staff throughout the season. It’s a long season. Kylie threw a lot of games for us last year but this staff is going to be important. I think Emily [Anderson] showed great promise in the fall. [Christina Biggerstaff] has come back stronger this spring than she definitely was in the fall. All their mentality is very strong right now.
HOERNER: We’re a completely different team than last year. We lost those four seniors. They were crucial for us. We’re looking at Sam Pierannunzi in center field. She’s taking more control out there. Obviously Hayley was an experienced outfielder but Sam is coming along nicely in the outfield and learning how to take charge and play center field since she was in right field last year. Kelsey [Chisolm] is a freshman at shortstop but is doing a great job. Ashley is working with us so she’s able to work with Kelsey on a one-on-one basis, which is neat. Kelsey had a great fall for us. She’s very good. I look for her to have a really good season. She’s got a great arm, she’s got a great softball mentality, which I love. So she’s learning the game more and more but she’s a very smart ballplayer and then [Caitlyn] Coffey’s behind the plate. She’s taking over in `Rud”s’ footsteps. That’s hard to do. `Rud’ just took control and was an outstanding player for us but Coffey’s looking good. Her arm is looking really strong and she’s taking control behind the plate. Today was her best day behind the plate, I thought, as far as taking control of our team. It’s coming. It’s coming together nicely. I’m happy with our progress right now.
TGW: How do you see the top of the order and the power spots?
HOERNER: We’re looking at Sam to lead off. She led off in the fall. We kind of mixed her and Chelsie [Thomas], 1 and 2. Chelsie had a phenomenal fall for us. So I expect them to be at the top of the order. For power, Karly Fullem is hitting the ball really well right now. Kelsey, I’m not sure where she’s going to be but she’s so consistent. We’ll probably put her down at the bottom of our lineup but she’s so consistent. Courtney Ziese is hitting the ball great. She had a great fall for us, too, and she came back strong hitting-wise. So I’m looking for Karly and Courtney to be in the middle of our lineup right now.
TGW: The team will be starting with an NCAA-caliber schedule right off the bat, including non-conference games at Tennessee and at Alabama. Is that by design?
HOERNER: My philosophy is to be the best you need to play the best. We’re only going to get better if we play great competition. Our schedule is NCAA-packed with top-25 teams. To me, you learn more from your losses than your wins. You take the good with the bad. You’re going to probably take some lumps but you learn from that and that’s going to prepare us for ACC play and postseason. We have a very tough schedule but, again, my philosophy is to be the best you have to play the best. We have to go out and see that competition right away. See what we’re made of.
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