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Q & A With Head Coach Ehren Earleywine

Feb. 1, 2005

The 2005 Georgia Tech softball team will open the season ranked No. 21 in the preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Poll. The Yellow Jackets finished 47-19 last season and No. 22/23 in the final polls. With five starters returning and NFCA All-America pitcher Jessica Sallinger, the Jackets hope to repeat last year’s success and even push it further.

Head Coach Ehren Earleywine sat down and talked about the upcoming season:
What do you see from this team that differs from last year’s team?

“One major difference in this year’s team as compared to last year is our depth. This year we are stronger in the lower half of the lineup and on our bench. Last year our 7-9 hitters were inconsistent and didn’t provide us with as many runs as we would have liked. This group is strong from 1-9 and could strike big in either half of the lineup. Not to mention, if someone gets hurt or isn’t playing well, our bench depth will allow us to move forward without losing much, if anything.

“The question mark for us right now is our pitching depth. I was very confident in our No. 2 pitcher, Erin Voeltz, last season. With her gone, we lost something. Our No. 2 and No. 3 pitchers have improved a great deal, but I just won’t know how much until we get underway.

“Another major difference is that this group can really run. We had two or three base stealing threats last year as compared to five or six this year. My preference is to be `reckless’ on offense and apply pressure on the defense. If we can just get some of these good runners to first base, we should be alright.”

What are the team goals heading into the season?
“The team set a few goals at the beginning of the spring and they were; winning the Atlantic Coast Conference, advancing to the College World Series, beating Georgia, winning our bracket at the NFCA Leadoff Classic and beating all teams we should beat.

“All that is nice, but I guess for me, I just want to know where we were yesterday and we are today. Have we gotten better and are we addressing the right things. If so, the outcome should be favorable.

“Setting and reaching goals is rewarding, but I hope our team understands, and I think they do, that success is the by-product of technique, effort, conditioning and teamwork. Outside of that, it’s just talk and predictions.”

How good is the ACC going to be this year and pick some favorites in the league?
“The ACC just keeps getting better every year. You’re starting to see more parity in softball because of its popularity and growth over the past few years. Because of that, the players on the east coast have really improved, hence improving the ACC as a whole.

“To me, Florida State is the front-runner and returns some great players from last year’s World Series team. At the top of that list is Casey Hunter (ace pitcher). I think she experienced some arm trouble at the end of last season, but I suspect she will be healthy and as good as ever again this year. They always play hard, run the bases well, and most importantly, they feature great pitchers. I’ll be very surprised if they don’t finish in the top five again this year.

“North Carolina and Virginia are always tough opponents who can beat you on any given day. Both of them had good recruiting years and will return key players from last year’s teams. Crystal Cox [UNC] is a solid pitcher with a good change-up. She will be back and can give you fits if you let her get into a rhythm. Virginia has a very similar pitcher in Erin Horn.

“I think the sleeper team and somebody to keep an eye on is NC State. Last year was their inaugural season for softball and they went well over .500 [32-27] and beat a lot of good teams in the process. And remember, that was with mostly freshman. Those girls will have matured and will be a notch better this season. Not to mention, they have an outstanding crop of freshman to add to that mix.

“Maryland and Virginia Tech have added new pitchers to their staffs and from my understanding, they are quality kids who will really improve those team’s chances of winning. Both are solid teams who will play extra hard in the conference match-ups.

“Overall, we like the competitiveness in the ACC and the fact that we now have three-game sets, which provides a stronger and better conference season. That format calls for your ace pitcher to throw two of three games, and we feel that is a slight advantage for us, since Jessica Sallinger is as good as a pitcher as anyone we will compete against.”

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s squad?

“When you watch Georgia Tech play this year, you’ll see that our strengths are a dominant ace pitcher [Jessica Sallinger] and great speed on the bases. We will eventually play great defense, but at this point in our preparation for the spring, we’re not where we want to be.

“A question mark that could be considered a weakness is our youth. We will have five or six new players in our starting line-up everyday. They have matured so much since they came on campus this fall and I’m proud of all of them for the strides they have made.

“They will continue to grow throughout the season and I’m sure there will be growing pains along the way. We’re prepared for that, but that’s not an excuse for them to fail or for us to lose. We’ll use each outing as a learning experience and take that to our next practice or game to work on.

“Hopefully, by the latter part of the season, everyone will know their role and execute accordingly.”

Talk about this year’s schedule?
“As usual, we will play a very competitive schedule. I don’t know how it would rate on the RPI scale, but I assume high. Of course, we play in the NFCA Leadoff Classic, which is the best tournament in the country in my opinion. We’ll see a steady dose of competitive programs in that tournament for sure. Our Buzz Classic Tournament has gotten more competitive this year as well.

“Right now, its hard for me to look much further than Chattanooga…honestly. Overall though, it will be a hard schedule with little or no breaks.”

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