A Gate City state softball championship seemed a safe bet in 2006. It was such a sure thing, it was a forgone conclusion from the outset.
The only problem was, it never happened. Honaker's Raeann Slate struck out 10 Lady Blue Devil batters in a 2-0 Region D tournament semifinal win that ended Gate City's season.
The other surprise story line was Appalachia, which advanced to the Group A tournament after entering the Lonesome Pine District tournament as the No. 6 seed.
Despite some key personnel changes, Gate City returns to action in 2007 with substantial veteran talent and a need to prove something. Everyone is viewing the Lady Bulldogs with newfound respect, although traditional LPD powers J.J. Kelly and Powell Valley will demand their fair share of it.
Castlewood is expected to rule the roost in the Cumberland District. St. Paul, Rye Cove and Twin Springs won't readily concede much, if any, to the preseason favorite.
Next year's Region D expansion should make it slightly easier for certain teams to make it into the regionals. Beyond that, the addition of the Clinch Mountain District will make it a lot tougher to advance to the state.
If any other Cinderellas in Region D are dreaming about a mad dash to the state tournament, this would be the season to pull it off.
Following are capsules from teams whose coaches responded to the Times-News survey:
Coach: Hugh Godsey
2006 Record: 21-3
Top Players Returning: Heather Odle, p-ss; Haley Odle, c (.488); Tuesdee Woods, 3b-1b (.424); Lydia Sharpe, 2b-3b (.350); Samantha Horner, cf (.301); Emily Clark, of-2b; Brianna Williams, of
Top Newcomers: Kaitlan Lane, 1b-3b-dh; Lindsey Burke, rf-c; Shianna Grills, p-1b; Rachel Horner, if-of-dh
Coach's Comments: "That was a big disappointment for us last year. We felt like we should've been there. Of course our first goal is to try to win the LPD. The mound, shortstop and center field ... were three key positions we had filled for several years. Those will be new this season. With our numbers, trying to stay injury free will be a big concern."
Coach: Randall Wyatt
2006 Record: 14-8
Top Players Returning: Kalen Collins, p (13-7, 1.65 ERA), Lindsay Oakes, c; Samantha Brummette, 2b; Lauren Mullins, ss; Alex Wyatt, 3b; Leigha Lawson, of; Leigh Anne McDaniel, of
Top Newcomers: Autumn Chisenhall, 1b-p (1-1); Lauren Powers, of; Courtney Brooks, of; Autumn Silcox, of; Brittany Frazier, of-if; Michelle Collins, of-if
Coach's Comments: "We lost sophomore starter Jaydee Brewer for the season due to a knee injury during the district basketball tournament. We should have pretty good team speed. We need to have more consistency in our hitting. The girls have a good attitude and work ethic."
Coach: Jon Bright
2006 Record: 12-8
Top Players Returning: Hannah Hampton, p (10-4); Alex Scott, 1b; Britni Wilson, 2b; Hannah Stewart, 3b-p; Brandy Hamilton, of (.378); Breana Stallard, dh
Top Newcomers: Chelsea Forney, ss-p; April Hamilton, c; Ashley Farmer, of; Sheena Tate, of
Coach's Comments: "We have a great young group of girls - no seniors and just three juniors. This is as talented a group as I've ever had. We hope all of the newbies mature quickly and adjust to varsity softball. We're looking to be a surprise team that's very competitive."
Coach: Paul Clendenon
2006 Record: 13-8
Top Players Returning: Rachel Thompson, c (.333); Rebecca Durham, 3b (.333); Keisha Perry, of
Top Newcomers: Marie Chandler, p; Kayla Holdway, p; Erica Price, 1b; Chabrae Roark, 2b (.300); Holly Gilliam, ss (all-state as a sophomore, missed 2006 with injury); Kacey Adams, of; Mandy Blanton, of; Cassie Sturgill, utility; Morgan Haines, of-if; Tasha Trent, of-if
Coach's Comments: "We're going to be very young. We have only two returning starters from last year and all starters but two or three will be freshmen and sophomores. We should be improved over last year because of the young pitchers. Rachel Thompson and Chabrae Roark will be great players in the future."
Coach: Travis Turner
2006 Record: 14-12
Top Players Returning: Erin Wilson, p; Lauren Howard, c; Rebecca Estridge, 1b-p; Leigha Lambert, 2b; Racheal Hylton, ss
Top Newcomers: Erica Boggs, of-p; Stephanie Stewart, of; Brittany Craft, of; Courtney Barnette, of; Sarandon Blankenbechler, p; Catherine Rainey, dh; Jessica McMahan, if-of
Coaches comments: "We've got good pitching and good team defense."
Coach: Randy Shortt
2006 Record: 12-9
Top Players Returning: Sarah Bentley, p (12-9, 2.00 ERA); Brooke Stidham, c (.400); Bobbi Jo Arrington, 1b; Sarah Hartsock, 2b-p; Melissa Taylor, ss; Shauna Ross, 3b (.340)
Top Newcomers: Candace Shortt, p; Lakrisha Isaac, of; Tabby Rose, of; Stacy Bowman, dh; Stephanie Cantrell, of; Whitney Bolling, of; Katie Stallard, dh; Kayla Balthis, of-if; Carissa Mullins, of-if
Coach's Comments: "We have lots of experience and feel good about our pitching and hitting. But we need to work on our defense."
Coach: Suzi Atwood
2006 Record: 3-17
Top Players Returning: Olivia Stallard, 1b; Tanya Rose, 3b; Misty Green, of; Jordan Fields, of; Kayla Mitchell, of; Amber Shouse, of
Top Newcomers: Hannah Light, p; Catherine Nixon, c; Lauren McCoy 2b; Samantha Perry, ss; Haley Skeen, if; Whitney Meade, if-of
Coach's Comments: "We have very hard workers with good attitudes."
Coach: Shannon Casteel
2006 Record: 15-5
Top Players Returning: Courtney Compton, c; Cherita Peterson, 2b; Lorren Evans, ss; Keisha Perrigan, 3b-p; Heather Lawson, p-3b; Kelsey Addington, of; Shaina Hall, of
Top Newcomers: Morgan Trent, 1b-p; Kayla Gordon, of; Megan Osborne, of-if; Katlin Wohlford, p; Chelsea Meade, if-of
Coach's Comments: n/a
Coach: Matt Meade
2006 Record: 9-10
Top Players Returning: Courtney Salyers, c; Lindsey Dickenson, 1b; Lindsey Hall p-of; Brittney Russell, of; Rosie Mullins, of
Top Newcomers: Caitlin Robinson, p; Kayla Kennedy, p-of; Danielle Hall, 1b; Destinee Blevins, 3b-2b; Courtney Salyers, c; Candace Castle, if-of; Morgan Scarberry, if-of; Emily Pilkenton, if-of; Beth Wright, if-of; Haley Kiser, of-if; Haley Hileman, of-if; Victoria Thomas, of-if
Coach's Comments: "Our goal is to be competitive and have a chance to win each game we play in."
Coach: Myra Brooks
2006 Record: 6-14
Top Players Returning: Emily Persinger, p; Katrina Isaacs, 1b; Courtney Moles, 2b; Jennifer Burke, ss; Brandy Vass, 3b; Greta Williams, of; Jessica Burke, of
Top Newcomers: Ashley Hensley, c; Amelia Bailey, of; Jessica Montgomery, of; Amy Meddings, of-if; Jamie Blass, of-if; Gabby Brooks, of-if; Salina Johnson, of-if
Coach's Comments: n/a
Coach: Mike Twigg
2006 Record: 14-9
Top Players Returning: Danielle Shackleford, p (13-9, All-Highlands), Kristi Cress, 2b
Top Newcomers: Ashley Dickenson, c; Erica Quillen, 1b; Chelsea Brock, ss; Lauren Hatfield, 3b; Kendra Hawkins, of; Shelby Adams, of; Kayla Rutherford, of
Coach's Comment: "All-district sophomore Chelsea Cluesman is recovering from ACL surgery and may or may not be back this year. With only two returning starters, this year will be a learning year for many newcomers. With a lot of new positions up for grabs, the final lineup may change several times throughout the season."