MONROE – For most teams in Class A-Private, finishing as the third best team in the state the previous season would be indicative of a squad full of upperclassman.
That’s not the case for George Walton Academy. The Lady Bulldogs finished third in Class A-Private in Columbus last season, but bring back six of last year’s nine starters this season including both starting pitchers.
Last year’s county strikeout leader Taylor Tinsley, a junior, will lead the rotation, while fellow junior Caroline Conner is a formidable No. 2 pitcher. GWA also has freshman Hayden Stancil waiting in the wings behind Tinsley and Conner.
“Caroline Conner and Taylor Tinsley will continue to be huge for us in the circle,” Lady Bulldogs head coach Katherine Meeks said. “I think Caroline in particular is poised to break out big time at the plate.”
As for the rest of the defense, it’s been shuffled around some due to graduation. Reign Williams has moved from shortstop to catcher; Riley Wilson has moved from second to shortstop, Marnie Couch has moved from left to center, and Alana Griffith has moved in from Loganville and taken over at second base.
“Riley Wilson is someone who I think will grow leaps and bounds from what she produced as a freshman, and she was key then,” Meeks said. “Reign Williams will be a key player both defensively and at the plate — her leadership will not be understated either. Alana Griffith will also make our lineup deeper and Hayden Stancil could be big as a freshman.
Offensively, GWA looks to up its production and do a better job of driving in runners in scoring position.
“We left a good number of runners on in a position to score last year so that has to be an area of improvement,” Meeks said. “I also think we probably have a little more pop this year due to the work the girls put in the weight room in the offseason.”
The attention to weightlifting in the off season turned out to be important for the Lady Bulldogs. Like other teams, COVID-19 radically changed GWA’s offseason plans.
“We were already planning on adding more weights this offseason, but with the new COVID restrictions (conditioning and weights only at first) we ended up going to the weight room more often than we probably would have otherwise,” Meeks said.
Meeks has been extremely pleased with how well her team has adapted to the change in plans prior to last week’s season opener.
“They were rock stars. Everything we've asked them to do — mask up, stay distant as much as possible, cleaning diligently, you name it — they've done it,” Meeks said. “They have really been great about everything, and I also think they've learned (through this whole process since March) to appreciate the time they have on the field and with one another and not take a single moment for granted.”
George Walton’s path to the playoff got a little bit tougher this season. With the recent Georgia High school Association reclassification cycle, public and private schools in Class A were split into different classifications. Due to the change, Class A-Private moved to an area format instead of a region format, which added powerhouse Wesleyan to the Lady Bulldogs’ regular season schedule.
“We'll still have to face Prince, Hebron has gotten stronger over the last several seasons, and we added Wesleyan who is a powerhouse in the state,” Meeks said. “It should be a lot of fun and really great softball going down.”
The Lady Dawgs opened the season with a 5-1 win over Walnut Grove last week followed by a 2-1 over Loganville on Saturday. GWA was scheduled to face off with Loganville again Tuesday evening followed by a Friday night doubleheader against Forsyth Central and Flower Branch at Flowery Branch for the Hawk Invitational.