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Even with long layoff, North Georgia softball team focused on goals

POSTED: April 22, 2010 5:10 p.m.
/For The Times

Senior infielder Laura Voyles is shown in a game during the Peach Belt Conference tournament. Voyles was named Co-MVP of the tournament along with teammate Sarah Phillips after hitting .417 with four home runs and nine RBIs in the team's four tournament games.

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DAHLONEGA — Two years ago, the North Georgia softball team set a goal.

It was the first year the program was eligible to play for a Division II national title, so the girls decided they wanted to win one.

At that time, the Division II Women’s College World Series was played in Houston, so the Lady Saints made an acrostic out of the Texas city. For each letter, a word was written; a team characteristic that would lead them to that goal.

This season has been an improbable one for North Georgia. On April 18 the Lady Saints won their second straight Peach Belt Conference tournament title with a 9-5 win against Francis Marion, continuing a streak of 45 straight wins.

And with each game played, the goal written two years ago has seemed less and less out of reach.

“The goal we set my sophomore year has become so real now,” said senior infielder Laura Voyles, who along with pitcher Sarah Phillips was named co-MVP of the conference tournament.

But the girls will have to wait 22 more days to begin the journey of making it a reality.

On May 14, 26 days after playing in the conference title game, North Georgia will play its next game, this one in the NCAA Division II Southeast Regionals.

“It’s like a vacation for us,” said Voyles, who’s currently batting .331 with 33 RBIs and 11 home runs.

“It’s a good chance for everybody to rest up.”

Especially this week, which is exam week and the final week of school at North Georgia.

“We don’t do anything during exam week,” North Georgia coach Mike Davenport said. “We let the girls focus on their education and grades.

“We use this week as a week for bodies to heal. It’s been such a grind, cramming in a lot of games into a short amount of time.
This is a good week for them to get away from it.”

For Phillips, the team’s ace, that healing is a necessity.

The junior is 38-0 on the season with a 0.79 ERA and 248 strikeouts in 247 innings pitched. As if that isn’t enough, she pitched 33 complete games this season.

“Towards the end of the season, we’re very selective about how much we use her during practices,” Davenport said. “You want her fresh during games; both her arm and legs.

“We all know that if we’ve got a healthy Sarah Phillips on the mound, we’ve got a good chance of doing well.”
Voyles echoed her coach’s statements.

“(Phillips being rested) gives us 10 times more confidence in her,” Voyles said. “It’s every softball player’s dream to play and not have to go to school, and when we get back to practice (next week), it gives us confidence knowing that she’s 100 percent
focused on softball.”

In the meantime, Phillips has six exams to take this week, three and a half of which she’d completed by Thursday. Knowing she still has a responsibility to the team, however, she’s spent time in the athletic department’s training room as well.

“I feel a lot older this year than I did last year,” Phillips said. “The toll of being two complete seasons into my career at North Georgia, instead of just one, is noticeable.

“Each of us has a responsibility to get where we were before the break, though,” Phillips continued. “I want to be better than I was before the break — we all do — so I’m making sure I do things even when I have down time.”

When practice resumes next week, Davenport said the first four or five days back on the field will be light with scrimmages interspersed in the two weeks leading up to the start of regionals.

“The girls have already done the work they need to do, so we don’t see any need to push them very hard,” Davenport said. “They respond well to time off and use it to their advantage.

“Playing ball without the pressures of school is one of the easiest times, so we don’t see any reason to make it harder.”
Whether practice is light or hard, whether they’re staring at two days off or 26, matters little to a team focused on the goal set two years ago.

“Time off is needed, but we’ll get our condioning back when we hit the field again,” Voyles said. “And our focus on winning will be greater than it has been yet this season.”


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