Buford High School softball coach Tony Wolfe has been nothing short of perfect since taking over the program in 2007. In four years, he has led his team to four consecutive Class AA state championships.
If his team is to succeed in its "drive for five," however, it will have to do so without a few key members from last year's team.
Although the No. 1 ranked Lady Wolves return eight seniors, they will be without pitchers Karly Fullem and Melissa Dickie who combined for 30 wins and 13 shutouts a year ago. Also missing will be Chelsie Thomas, the team's leader in batting average.
"Obviously we lost quite a bit of talent from a year ago, but we love the way the kids work," Wolfe said. "We have a great senior class and a lot of talented young players."
Among those young players will be freshmen pitchers Bria Bush and Tessa Daniels, who Wolfe said will be counted on to help fill the void left behind by Fullem and Dickie.
And while they don't bring experience at the high school level, Wolfe believes they have plenty of talent to succeed.
"They're going to be effective just on abilities," Wolfe said. "How they handle the pressure of pitching against older kids will be a big part of how well they do."
The team will also return senior catcher Lexi Overstreet, the team's leader in home runs and RBI, and shortstop Kallie Case who led the Lady Wolves with 30 stolen bases.
Wolfe will find out quickly how his young players will adjust when Buford puts its 20-game winning streak on the line against Gordon Lee High at Kennesaw State University on Monday.
Gordon Lee was 38-0 a season ago on its way to the Class A state championship. It finished second in the state each of the four seasons previously.
"It'll be a great gauge in terms of where we're at," Wolfe said. "We know where we want to be. This will give us great insight into where we are and what we have to do to get there later on."
Class AA runner-up Union County begins the season ranked No. 4 in the state. Its season will get under way today at the Lanier Point Invitational.
Also attempting to repeat as state champions will be White County High which defeated Allatoona in the Class AAA title game a year ago and begins the 2011 season ranked No. 3 in its classification.
It will break in a new head coach in Beth Kimsey who was an assistant on former head coach John Brown's staff. She says that there is added pressure coming off of last season's success, but that she believes her team is up to the challenge.
"There's incredible pressure," she said. "Everyone's looking for a repeat. But I think we can do as well if not better."
The team will return seven of nine from last year's squad, but will lose standout pitcher Stephanie Satterfield who moves on to play at Georgia Perimeter College next season.
Stepping into her shoes will be senior Callie McDonald and sophomore Madison Turner.
"We lost a couple of key pieces, but I think we'll adjust well," Kimsey said.
The Lady Warriors will begin the season today at the Lanier Point Invitational. Other key games will include region rivals No. 4 Walnut Grove on Tuesday and No. 2 Oconee County on Aug. 23. All three teams are ranked in the top four in the state in Class AAA.
Elsewhere in the region, both Gainesville and North Hall will begin their seasons with a new head coach. Michelle Green, who led Oconee County High to the Region 8-AAA title a year ago, will take over at Gainesville where she will try to kick-start a program that hasn't seen the postseason since the 1998 Class AA Slow-Pitch tournament. Brooke Smith will take over for former North Hall head coach Bruce King. King was 21-29 over two seasons with the team.