Staying focused is what Clay McDonald stresses most to his golfers as coach of the Gainesville Lady Red Elephants. Based on his team's youth - three of the Lady Red Elephants' six golfers are freshmen - he believes it's what is most important for the team to succeed.
"We're trying to stay focused on the goals we want to accomplish for the season, and we do that by achieving several short-term goals," McDonald said.
Gainesville has been on a tear recently. After defending their Hall County Championship title last week, the Lady Red Elephants won the Chattahoochee Invitational on Saturday. On Tuesday, they defeated Habersham Central by 20 strokes (90-110) at Innsbruck in Helen, and on Wednesday, they beat North Hall 92-101 at Chestatee Golf Club in Dawsonville.
"They've been doing the little things prior to events that help them be successful," McDonald said. "A lot of that has to do with playing the course, not competing against other golfers. You're out there by yourself, and golf is one of the few sports where the coach can't call time out and help them out. They're on their own, so I give them credit for accepting the challenge."
McDonald, in his third season as Lady Red Elephants coach, said the team is working hard toward qualifying for the state tournament, which they've done every year McDonald has been at the helm.
In 2009, Gainesville finished eighth, and last year it finished fifth in Class AAA.
With this year's state tournament at Chestatee Golf Club, McDonald hopes this year they can make their move inside a top-four finish.
"It's right in our backyard and we'd like to be a part of it," he said.
LADY FALCONS STEAMROLLING THROUGH REGION: The 9-5 record of Flowery Branch's girls soccer team might not look too flashy, but take out the Lady Falcons' non-region games and another story emerges. They're off to a 7-0 start in Region 8-AAAA and have a chance to secure a No. 1 seed in the playoffs with just three league games remaining.
Lady Falcons coach Katie Scali said the reason for her team's success is simple.
"We just have a really good group in particular this year," Scali said. "We lost five or six seniors from last year, but the core of the team is back and has been with the program since freshman year."
Flowery Branch's biggest obstacle standing in the way of a No. 1 seed and home-field advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs is No. 8 Heritage. The Lady Patriots (7-2-1, 4-1) host Flowery Branch on April 1.
Scali believes the Lady Falcons are in the discussion for a top seed because they were driven by missing last year's playoffs by one game.
"We just dropped too many games last year to control our own destiny," said Scali of last year's Lady Falcons, which went 7-4 in Region 7-AAA and lost the final spot to West Hall due to a tie-breaker. "Being left out when we felt like we were a team capable of making the playoffs added fuel to the fire for this year."
RIVERSIDE TURNING THINGS AROUND?: Riverside Military Academy baseball coach Darius Smiley has seen a different team ever since a players-only meeting before a March 15 game against Social Circle.
The results of the meeting were immediate, and the Eagles are on a three-game win streak after losing the season's first 11 games.
During the losing streak, Riverside scored 32 runs. The Eagles have matched that run total their last two games in wins over Prince Avenue (17-6) and Towns County (15-14).
"They decided amongst themselves they were going to try harder and they've done that," said Smiley of the players-only meeting, which was called by senior Mason Pope (C/1B) and junior Jacob Harrison (P/SS).
Smiley said the biggest improvement he's seen in Riverside is its aggressiveness at the plate. During the losing streak, the Eagles took third-strike pitches instead of swinging too often. That hasn't been the case lately. He also said the team, which averaged five to seven errors a game, is down to one or two errors lately.
"They're starting to see the difference confidence-wise," Smiley said. "If you're putting the ball in play and limiting your errors, you have a chance."
Pope and Harrison have followed their words at the meeting with actions, each hitting two-run homers in the last two games.