Head coach: Inglis Hunter (1st year)
2018 record: 4-6
Last playoff appearance: 2016
Key losses: Xuri Wood (OF), Sera Negron (1B)
Key returners: McKenzie Nichols (P), Lindsay McKie (OF/1B), Kyla Andrews (OF), Mya Bryant (INF)
Key additions: Shatazmin Davis (INF)
Outlook: Originally hired to take over the Salem boys basketball program, Inglis Hunter didn’t hesitate to accept the head coaching role of the Seminoles’ softball program having coached the sport for the past 10 years.With the Seminoles coming off of a 4-6 season in which only three non-region games were played, one of Hunter’s first big changes to the program was adding more games to the schedule.
In 2019, the Seminoles will play 21 regular season games, their most since 2012.
“We’ve scheduled entire weeks of games this season,” Hunter said. “The administration was asking me, ‘How are you guys playing games back-to-back?’ I told them that’s what real softball teams do.”
Of the Seminoles’ 21 games this season, 14 will be of the non-region variety. They will play on back-to-back nights seven times this season.
“That was just the luck of the draw with our back-to-back games,” Hunter said. “One week, we play four games, and another one, we play three. When we’re not playing back-to-back games, we will be off every other day or sometimes two days.”
Highlighting the Seminoles’ returning crop of players is rising junior McKenzie Nichols, the program’s No. 1 pitcher. Nichols helped lead the Seminoles to wins against Cedar Shoals, Luella, North Clayton and McDonough, formerly Henry County, last season.
“I’m very excited as far as she’s concerned,” Hunter said of Nichols. “My main concern now is the rest of the team and getting them up to her level. We’ve got a couple of pretty good returning players. Lindsay McKie is a senior. Mya Bryant is a sophomore and Kyla Andrews is a junior.”
Hunter also pointed to incoming freshman Shatazmin Davis on being a potential star in the making with her above average speed.
“With the work that we’ve been putting in, I’m ready and I think the girls are ready to see it come out on the field,” Hunter said. “All of them have gotten stronger. Now, I’m trying to work with them mentally. We’ve been doing a lot of reps on situational softball.”
Hunter said he has put his team through a rigorous summer workout program that has included many days of weight lifting and running on campus. On the field, Hunter has placed a big emphasis on the Seminoles’ defense and hitting.
“Defensive fielding and a lot of hitting off of the tee,” Hunter said. “We’ve been working really hard at that, as well as our conditioning. We have a hill at the school that we call Salem’s Way. We’ve been running up and down Salem’s Way every day getting our core together and in shape.”
Of the Seminoles’ four victories in 2018, three came against Region 4-AAAA opponents. The Seminoles fell two games short of reaching the postseason, but are hoping to make a return in 2019 for the first time in three years.
“I tell them all of the time, ‘why can’t we win this year?’ That’s the whole attitude that we’ve been changing,” Hunter said.
“Being leaders, being engaged in everything that we do is at the top. If we do what we’re supposed to do on the softball field, the mental aspect is what will get us over the hump.”
New to Region 4, Hunter expects one of their biggest challenges in the region to come against cross-county Eastside, a team against which the Seminoles open region play Aug. 15.
“Right now, I’m hearing that Eastside is the team to beat,” Hunter said. “We start off region play with them, so what better way to kind of see where you’re at? You can’t go anywhere but up after playing Eastside.”
While Hunter hopes to post a winning record in 2019 and win a large portion of their 14 non-region games, how he will measure the Seminoles’ overall success in 2019 will come from their record in region play.
“My measurement will be based off of last year,” Hunter said. “Last year, they won four games and we only played seven region games. My entire measurement will be based on what we do in the region. I would love to win all of our non-region games, but those will be like practice games that help you with your average and winning awards at the end of the year. The region games are the ones that really count.”
The Seminoles open their season on the road at Rockdale County on Monday.