Wrapping up a surprisingly successful season, the JCHS Lady Longhorns softball program recently celebrated this years many accomplishments at their annual awards banquet. Held at the First Christian Church in Mountain City, coaches Dana Smith and Lisa Mullins recognized several players who were key in securing wins not only over some of the Lady Longhorns tough conference competition, but in Johnson Countys various tournament runs as well.
The biggest event of the evening was the retirement of senior Ashley Arnolds jersey, marking only the second time that a player has received such an honor. When asked what led her to choose to retire Arnolds jersey, Coach Smith explained that it was actually a very easy decision to make. It was only fitting, Smith said. Shes been at second base for four years and shes always been the person that we depend on. It was the least we could do for someone who works as hard as she works for herself and to get better for her team. Ashley is one of our top students; shes in the top 10 percent. She was asked to lead this group of young girls and she has done an excellent job of that. Ashley took a young team as the only senior in a major starting position and made it her own, to be in that role she has just done her job and took care of business.
Yet, Arnold was not the only senior player to receive her just recognition. Haley Miller, who has also played all four years in a variety of positions, was chosen to receive the Coaches Award not only because of her adaptability and willingness to work hard wherever she was needed but also because of her attitude toward the game. In fact, along with Kristin Roark, Linnea Yongue, and Ashley Arnold, Smith could not say enough good things about this seasons small but dedicated group of upperclassmen. I was just really proud of our seniors this year, Smith said. They took ownership of the team and led in such a way that those young girls immediately bought in and were going to play with everything they had. I think that to finish third in the conference with as tough a conference as we have was phenomenal. Elizabethton came in with high expectations because they were loaded with seniors, Unicoi didnt lose anybody, they had everybody back, and we were picked fifth out of sixth. I never told the girls that, I dont know that they ever knew that, but they played so well against Unicoi down there 3-0 and they played one game very well against Elizabethton. I told them that it was like trial by fire. You see this young team and you think, look at how much experience they got.
As Smith pointed out, the Lady Longhorns faced difficult odds coming into the year. Losing many of their strongest players Johnson County was forced to rely on a relatively unknown group of incoming freshmen and sophomores with little varsity experience. Yet there is no accounting for raw talent and from the very beginning players like Jayme Jennings, Kelsey Duperry, and Brianna Snyder proved that they had what it took to make a winning team.
According to Smith, Duperry did awesome on third base. The longer she played the more confidence she had and thats the same with Jayme. I watch younger players make that transformation all the time and it still amazes me. Its all about confidence and its the same way with Kali Sluder. Kali played second base last year on JV and she was able to step into the varsity in the outfield. All of these girls have worked very hard; you can tell by the way that they played and the things that they did considering that they werent expected to. Everyone thought that we were going to be really, really bad this year because we were a young team. They worked hard from the very beginning even when we started conditioning. I think that the biggest surprise was probably how fast they came together. We went preseason to Pigeon Forge and I watched them transform into a team that was just going to take care of the ball. They showed up and it felt like a family.
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