The Darton State Lady Cavaliers softball team opened spring practice Monday, getting to work under new head coach Eric Neel for the first time.
Neel was named the Lady Cavs' coach Friday, met the team on Sunday, and led practice Monday afternoon.
"It's fun. It's a little different because usually at this point we've known our coach for a while, but I like him a lot," laughs sophomore shortstop Bree Wells. "He seems like he knows what he's talking about, and he's a really nice guy."
Neel says he's still learning names and getting to know the players, but already feels this is going to be a good partnership.
"I've looked at a bunch of stats, and we've got a bunch of great kids coming back," Neel says. "[Assistant] Coach [Lisa] Williams has filled me in on everybody that we've got coming back. We have some great leadership, a little bit of speed, and a little bit of power, and I think we've got some established pitchers as well."
Neel steps into an odd situation as the third head softball coach at Darton since July.
Former coach David Dews resigned in July to take the head coaching position at Lindsey Wilson.
His replacement, Larry Willis, lasted only four months before resigning in November.
Despite all the turnover, Neel and the Lady Cavs feel this situation will make them better.
"It's made us closer," says Wells. "As weird as it is, it's made us closer."
"They're eager to have someone who wants to lead them on to that next step," Neel says. They've been embracing of me, coming forth, and being open. I think they're kind of like that wandering child just looking for a parent. And it's worked out very well."
Neel comes to Albany after a highly successful stint in the high school ranks in Mississippi. His teams won five state championships in seven seasons.
Now he looks to lead the Lady Cavaliers to Utah to compete for a national title.
"They have the experience coming on from last season. I think they have a little bit of a sour taste in their mouth from not finishing what they wanted to," Neel says. "I think that drive is the most important part of that going in with the talent."
"This team is just different. We're very team oriented," Wells agrees. "That's what it takes to get to Utah."
The Lady Cavs' softball season gets underway on February 1, when they travel down the road to take on Andrew College in Cuthbert.
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