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JCHS Softball looking to get over hump this season

After a .500 season and a disappointing fourth place finish in the conference and district last season, the JCHS Lady Longhorn softball team looks to be stronger and better in 2011.
The Lady Longhorns return seven starters from last year's club, including two who have signed college scholarships.
JCHS has its entire infield back as well.
“We have to take care of business and we tend to let down against teams we shouldn't and as long as we stay driven and keep pushing and not let up on anybody, I think this team is a little more focused. This group of seniors have decided to make sure the focus is where it needs to be,” JCHS head coach Dana Smith said.
The four seniors, Sam Mahala, Rebecca Royston, Allyson Reece and Lizzie Dugger and the rest of the Lady Longhorns have learned some valuable lessons from last year.
“Those close games need to be put in our favor and they easily could have been put in our favor at any point,” Smith said. “We're going to have to put runs on the board to take the pressure off our defense a little bit and have some breathing room. We put so much pressure on our defense last year that by not pushing runs across and stranding runners. I can't wait to see them on the field together and to see what I know they can do,” Smith said.
The Lady Longhorns have a strong pitching and catching battery in Mahala and Reece and the infield is solid with Lizzie Dugger at third, Rebecca Royston at short, Ashley Arnold at second and Miranda Payne at first.
In the outfield, JCHS has a very solid center fielder in Eden Smith, with the final two spots still to be determined.
“I believe we're strong internally on the infield because we have our entire infield back we had at the end of the season and we still have Eden in centerfield. We're still trying to figure out who our starting right fielder and left fielder is going to be. I have to make that decision.”
Smith likes the chemistry of this Lady Longhorn squad and feels it might get her squad over the hump.
“This team has great chemistry,” Smith said. “That's one of those unknown factors that other teams don't take into consideration.”
The only time the team has made the Region Tournament was in 2005 during the Laura Peters and Katie Nelson era when JCHS hosted the District and finished second.
Fast forward six years later and the Lady Longhorns will host the District again this season and it should give JCHS a better chance of ending that drought.
“It amazed me because when we re-drew for positions, it just so happened I pulled this number and luck was with us because I wanted this group of seniors to finish on this field and have the opportunity for a home field advantage. I truly believe this group has the capability and if we're mentally tough I believe they'll go as far as they want to go,” Smith said.
The stumbling blocks the last five years have been Unicoi County and Elizabethton, teams JCHS has not beaten since 2006.
However, Smith is not counting her team this year out with all the experience coming back.
“Those teams are always going to be tough and I expect Happy Valley to get better each year,” Smith said. “I know this team has the capability of finishing in the top two or even to take the lead in the conference because I know what these other teams have and I know position by position we're stronger.”
Smith is challenging her players to help start a tradition at JCHS just like in Erwin.
“My question to this group is what kind of legacy are you going to leave? Will you be the team that says, we could have and we should have, but we didn't? I believe they're legacy will surprise some people because they're work ethic is bar done and they're going to do what they have to do to beat those teams.”
The Lady Longhorns open the season next Tuesday at 2010 Virginia Class A State runner-up Holston.