Buford softball coach Tony Wolfe spends a lot of time with his team teaching them “the intangibles” — things like work ethic, commitment, and other positive qualities he believes come from playing high school sports.
This kind of focus, however, does not stop Buford from being a force on the field. Although the Lady Wolves began their 2012 campaign without pitcher Tessa Daniels and power-hitter Jordan Deep, they were still able to finish the season as strong as ever and win their sixth consecutive softball state championship.
For his efforts, Wolfe has been named The Times 2012 Softball Coach of the Year.
For Wolfe, the 2012 team was different from ones he has coached in the past, and due to injuries, he had to adjust some positions and playing styles to find a winning combination for Buford.
“Offensively, we went from the team a year ago setting the school record for home runs to a team where injuries took away what little power we had,” Wolfe said.
“We had to play small-ball at the beginning of the year.”
Buford was still winning games, and Wolfe was able to learn more about his team throughout the early parts of the season.
“It probably slowed us down some finding the right combination of players,” Wolfe said, “but we learned how deep our talent base was. We had 12 or 13 players that could start for us at any given time.”
The Lady Wolves also became even more versatile and were able to adjust their style of play based on the players available, mostly freshmen and sophomores. Wolfe said that he wasn’t surprised at how well his young core of players executed throughout the season, but that he was pleased with how well they did.
“It’s a young infield to have to carry that kind of tradition and pressure,” Wolfe said. “They’re resilient, poised kids. They answered the challenges.”
Buford got some experience back midway through the season with the return of Deep and Daniels, who added power to the lineup and helped Buford overcome Franklin County in a decisive Game 3 that sent the Lady Wolves to the state championship tournament in Columbus.
“That gave us a lot of confidence going down to Columbus,” Wolfe said. “It was one of the most inexperienced teams we’ve ever taken to Columbus. We had a lot making their first appearances there.”
Wolfe fully believes, however, that he has “the best coaching staff in Georgia” that helped prepare this young team for the road to the championship.
“Going to Columbus, there’s a lot of pressure on everyone to continue the streak,” Wolfe said, “but they probably played their best ball of the year in Columbus.”
The streak is still alive, but Wolfe refuses to let his team become lax, especially with so many players returning. He plans to play a tough schedule again next year to help the team grow, but he insists that a championship is not necessary for a successful season.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming to know we have so much of our team coming back next year,” Wolfe said. “The coaching staff will be interested in ways to challenge this group. You really only improve when you’ve been put through the fire for a little bit.”
Wolfe believes the Lady Wolves have the chance to be even better next season but that they must go about it the right way to avoid complacency and too-high expectations.
“Certainly, we’re going to be really talented, but you have to be about the whole person and not just softball,” he said.