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The steam coming off the players on the 38-degree diamond is a pretty good indication that, if energy counts, Chiefland softball is going to have another good year. Like last year, the Lady Indians play in the brutal District 5 of Class 3A, where the competition includes perennial local power Williston as well as Ft. White and P.K. Yonge. Last year, neither Chiefland nor Williston made it out of the district tournament, an occurrence so rare some folks ran to the weather channel to see if it was snowing in certain warmer locales. Dark times for Chiefland, but now it's January 2009 and a brand new season has begun.
To begin with, the Indians have a great combination of youthful energy and veteran leadership. Junior pitcher Brittany Davis will mow down batters and Amie Biehl has the shortstop position nailed down. Head Coach Wayne Weatherford had ultra-talented freshman Taylore Fuller behind the plate at practice Wednesday, saying, “I think she'll do great there.”
That's not to say that Fuller will spend the whole season directing traffic. A player for Gainesville Gold travel team, Weatherford says Fuller can “play any position,” and adds that she hits for power as well as average.
“I've seen her hit three or four out in a game,” Weatherford said.
Weatherford will look to Fuller, along with Biehl, to provide vocal leadership.
“Amie's done such a great job on this team,” Weatherford said.
“She's played varsity since she was a freshman and she works so hard.”
Fans of some great recent Chiefland teams will be happy to hear that star pitcher Megan Weatherford is back with the Indians, as varsity assistant and JV head coach. Megan, who with Sam Arrington made up Chiefland's two-headed monster on the mound in the 2005 season (the year the Indians went 24-0 into the regional semifinal before falling to Trinity Christian) will train the pitchers for both teams, as well as help fielders and hitters with their mechanics.
Judging from Wednesday's practice, she's already made some improvements. Megan brought an elbow wrap to practice that is designed to enforce correct overhand throwing mechanics, reducing the risk of tendinitis. Several players tried the device and said they thought it helped.
Any hedge against injuries is a good thing. Weatherford said that, not counting basketball players, only 21 girls came out for softball this year. With the five or so he should get when basketball ends, that's enough for two teams, but only just.
“I only have one pitcher (Shelby Beauchamp) and one catcher (Katelyn Jenkins) for JV,” he said.
“If one of them gets hurt, I don't know what we'll do.”
Megan, who holds eight of 12 school records in softball, including those for home runs, RBI, doubles, batting average and slugging percentage, says she thinks she'll be able to contribute to Chiefland's success on varsity and JV.
“I was pitching coach for varsity last year, and sometimes I would notice things during games that my dad didn't,” she said.
“He also sees things that I don't see, so I think we'll be able to work really well together.”
As JV head coach, Megan says she hopes to help her young charges prepare for playing at the next level.
“I want to work with them to iron out any quirks they have, anything they're doing wrong,” she said.
“We want them to have the right mechanics so they'll be able to compete on the varsity level.”
In deciding whether to even have a JV team, Weatherford first had to sort out the scheduling issues. The Levy County School Board recently unveiled certain money-saving measures to cope with the budget crisis, one of which included limiting spring sports to the minimum number of home and away games required by FHSAA. The limit was meant to save energy on lights used for night games and fuel for school bus transportation. Teams were free to schedule additional daytime games, and in another measure being considered by the school board, may be able to expand the use of parent transportation to open the schedule up a little more. Weatherford said he had even toyed with scheduling varsity games earlier than JV, then letting JV play out whatever daylight was left, but it proved unnecessary with the other adjustments.
“We got 16 games,” Weatherford said.
“It was hard enough to get those. Because of our record (Final Four, multiple district championshps), the area teams that we should be playing – Mayo, Branford, Hawthorne and Interlachen - won't schedule with us. We had to get Union County and Taylor County, and they're both far.”
Weatherford says the team will probably use parent transportation for at least three games.