While each of the local teams had their share of highlights during the 2012 season, none of them made it through to the state tournament.
The coach facing perhaps the biggest challenge was Callaway’s Whitley Wiltz, who accepted the job as Callaway coach shortly before practice began in August. She had just two seniors returning, Georgia Alford and Daiquiri Lucio, on a team that was 8-12 last season and 10-17 in 2010.
This year’s team finished 6-15 and went 2-4 in area play.
“I feel like overall, we improved a lot as a team,” Wiltz said on Monday. “Our last couple of matches I was very proud, I was impressed, we did a lot of good things. We played well, we worked together, we played as a team. Basically, all the things I’ve been trying to build from day one.”
Callaway notched wins over against Upson-Lee (twice), Brookstone, Spencer, Carver and Central Carroll this season.
The future appears bright for the Lady Cavaliers, with most of the players returning.
Wiltz said the experience and familiarity with the players will make a difference in the outcome of next year’s matches.
“This was my first year. I learned a lot,” she said. “I’m definitely going to be more prepared next season and look forward to having a better outcome.”
Wiltz said she liked the way the team came together as the season went along.
“Probably the biggest thing was playing as a team that was our biggest issue at the beginning,” Wiltz said. “I don’t know if it was because we just didn’t necessarily have that preseason bonding, so it was kind of hard for us to play together and communicate well. Now at the end of the season, I feel like we have grown in that department and have done a lot better as far as playing together and actually playing as a team. I think that was our biggest issue.”
At LaGrange, youth was not an issue.
The Lady Grangers were a veteran, senior-laden unit, and they finished 14-12.
Coach Angie Newton, who finished her 14th season at the Grangers’ helm, will be tasked with replacing nine seniors next season. Newton said not all her expectations were met this year, but pointed out many of the teams LaGrange play have players who participate in the sport all year.
“It was a good season,” Newton said. “We had nine seniors. We hate to lose nine seniors and we’ll be kind of rebuilding next year. Overall, it was a good season. We didn’t have as many wins as we would have liked.”
In the area tournament, LaGrange lost to Fayette County and Shaw to fall short of its goal of making state.
During the regular season, highlights included multiple victories over Callaway and Troup.
“The girls held their heads up high and fought for every point, so you can’t ask for more than that,” Newton said of the team’s two losses in the area tourney. “Overall, it was an OK season. We had higher expectations of this group of nine seniors that didn’t quite meet our expectations this year, but still we came out with a winning record and I’m not disappointed at all. They played their heart out and tried as hard as they could.”
Next season, it’ll be up to a new group of starters to keep the wins coming.
“Getting all the girls regrouped and playing together is our goal,” Newton said. “We’re not as big as some of the other Atlanta and Columbus areas that have club teams and open gyms and their girls start playing together a lot younger and playing together for years.”
Troup, which had a roster filled with freshmen and sophomores, struggled this season and finished with four wins.
“We are a very young team,” Troup head coach Jodi Dowden said. “The majority of our staring players are sophomores. We’re looking forward to a lot of starters returning. We’re in a rebuilding season. The wins and losses didn’t equal out the way I would have hoped. So all in all, a young team rebuilding. That’s really the story of the season.”
Last season, five of the six starters were freshmen who played on a regular basis, Dowden said.
Those players were sophomores this season, and they’ll have even more experience next season.
Dowden said the veterans will be joined by a large group of freshmen who have made their way through the middle-school program. “They’ve got a lot of playing experience and talent,” Dowden said. “That group of younger kids has won some (championships). That’s going to help us a lot in the next couple of years. We’ve really just been working on planting grassroots three years ago and we just went back and started building the middle-school program from the ground up. They were coming into the high school with little to no experience.”
Dowden is hopeful that middle-school experience, coupled with the current crop of players who are gaining more experience, will equate to more wins down the road.
“That will start paying off in the next year or two,” she said.