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Tough schedule will test the softball Lady Panthers, led by six seniors

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By Kristin Beck

For softball seniors Michaela Culver, Sarah Hawkins, Kelsey Ogden, Mackenzie Ogden, Kayla Williamson and Brittany Yocum, 2014 is their year. This core group has been playing together since they were children and some have been starters for the Carroll County High School Lady Panthers since seventh grade. This should be the year that this team meets its full potential and makes a name for itself.

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Head coach Dennis Hawkins certainly believes in this team.

“As long as I have been a part of the program, this is the best team we have ever put on the field, and they should be able to play with anybody,” he said. Hawkins has been with the program since 2006. “I don’t think there is anybody that will walk on them if they have a good game and try hard. They can hold their own against anybody.”

The Lady Panthers were 13-12 last season and lost to Henry County in the 31st District semifinals. Hawkins said he believes the desire or motivation wasn’t there last year.

“They didn’t realize what it took to finish the games they hadn’t won yet,” he said. “The last two years, actually, we’ve let some games slip away in the last two innings where we were ahead or we couldn’t score in the latter innings when we needed to push runs across or something. We just didn’t execute when the going got tough, but, hopefully, they’re more mature this year and have more desire or determination to finish it.”

So far, things are on the right track. Hawkins said everyone’s attitude has been great this year, and the team is ready to go.

Because of the wintry weather this offseason, the team has practiced in the Carroll County Conditioning Center and did a lot of conditioning with strength and conditioning coach Ben Crutcher. “Coach Crutcher has put them through a lot of weight lifting and core work,” Hawkins said. “We spent a lot of time in the weight room this year making them stronger and they have really come and worked hard in the weight room, so they should be in good shape and be good and strong.”

Hawkins also commended the freshman players for their hard work in the offseason. “We’re going to have some freshman that have really improved that came all fall and winter that’s going to put some pressure on the older girls so that’s going to make the older girls better,” he said. “All these freshmen that we have right now are probably in the same spot that these seniors were when they were freshmen so they have something to look forward to.”

Unlike recent years, the Lady Panthers will have all high schoolers on varsity, with the exception being if someone were injured during the year, Hawkins said.

Carroll County will field a middle school team this year and will be coached by committee. Hawkins said the girls have been practicing with him and assistant coaches Paul Ogden, Scott Schirmer and Greg Goff after the high school practice. Parent volunteers Dan Stewart and Angie Searcy and athletic director Paul Stone also will be helping coach the girls, he said.

Hawkins put together a tough high school schedule this season, half of which includes teams that placed in the top 25 last season. The Lady Panthers also will play in two spring break tournaments – Oldham County Spring Break Classic and Woodford County Spring Break Tournament – which includes both top 25 and out-of-state teams.

“We’re going to be playing some of the best players in the state, which should show us where we’re at either way: whether we need work or if we’re as good as they are,” Hawkins said. “But I know we’re as good as they are, it just depends on how much we want to equal them, if we want to try hard enough tobe there and that’s the question I’ve got so far is have they got the heart to step up and compete? This is their senior year, so there isn’t going to be a next year, in high school anyway.”

The Lady Panthers will take on Gallatin County in the first round of the All ‘A’ Classic at Carroll County. Henry County will host the 31st District Tournament.

Hawkins said his main goal for this season is to get this team some regional and statewide recognition. “I want them to be recognized and be proud of themselves and proud of this year and put something on the banner in the high school gym,” he said.

Hawkins said he wants to make a run in the All ‘A’ state tournament and put several girls on the All ‘A’ region team. He also wants the Lady Panthers to make a good showing in the 8th Region tournament and hopes to make it to the state tournament. At one time during the season, he also wants to see Carroll County ranked in the Top 25 in the state.

“The main thing I want these young ladies to leave school (with is) remembering this year as one of the best years of their life,” he said.