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Ready To Battle

Feb. 7, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Soon after last season came to its gory end in a series of stultifying losses, Sharon Perkins knew she would make this season different.

There would be time spent under pressure, and that time is at hand.

The Georgia Tech softball team will not tip-toe forward. The head coach will see to it that the Yellow Jackets will not ease into spring.

And even after playing this weekend in the Jajikawa Classic hosted by defending national champion Arizona State, Tech will move ahead with the idea in coming weeks of seeking one tough test after another rather than blow-torching relative munchkins.

The goal: prepare now for the second season.

Tech wasn’t ready late last spring.

The Jackets boasted a 44-9 record upon entry to the postseason only to drop their first game in the ACC Tournament 6-0 — at home — to Virginia, and then bounce out of the NCAA Tournament a week later with injuries, a 2-1 loss to Oklahoma State and a 7-0 loss to Tennessee (with a 4-3 win over Liberty in between).

“We’re just trying to put the team in a better position for the postseason,” Perkins said of putting together a more daunting schedule. “That was the ultimate thing. I think we have a team that can handle it now.”

The Jackets are not exactly starting from scratch. They’ve been picked by ACC coaches to win their fourth straight conference title, and they’re ranked No. 23 in the USA Softball/ESPN poll.

But that’s not unlike where the Jackets were a year ago.

The ACC has proven to be one thing; the better competition, however, has been elsewhere.

In Tempe, the Jackets will play No. 8 Arizona and No. 20 (tie) Nebraska in addition to squads from San Diego State, Cal Poly and Oregon State — all of which are well respected.

After a home opener next Wednesday vs. Furman, the Jackets have a spot in the ACC/SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

That features No. 2 Alabama, No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 16 Oklahoma St., and Auburn.

Tennessee, ranked No. 9, is on the schedule a week later in a Clearwater, Fla., tournament, and down the road the Jackets will see No. 12 Georgia twice, and play at No. 20 LSU and No. 24 Louisiana-LaFayette.

“I’m very excited. My sophomore year we played a lot of big teams, and last year it seemed like we didn’t play any big teams until the end of the year, and it was kind of a shock,” said senior catcher-turned-outfielder Kate Kuzma.

“We’re really excited about playing the best of the best at the beginning . . . and the overall reputation of West Coast teams. We’ve gotten bigger. We’re mentally tough as well.”

Last season? Not so much.

The Jackets have gone about their strength and conditioning program differently in 2011-12 with the idea not only of building strength but toughness.

There will be more later in Sting Daily on that, and on specifics that relate to the roster, new faces, the anticipated resurgence of pitcher/hitter Hope Rush and more.

Know this: as the Jackets prepare to leave for Arizona, where there first game will be Friday against Oregon State, they’ve changed their approach. Perkins has a good feeling.

“I feel like it’s the strongest team we’ve had in a while,” the coach said. “I feel like one through nine we’re much stronger, and bringing people off the bench. We’re stronger, and our mental toughness is better . . . I think our team chemistry is better, and this year it won’t matter as much if we’re home or away [in the postseason].”

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