For Lassiter coach Jason Campbell, his decision to leave Hillgrove after six seasons at the helm can certainly be described as a good one.
Campbell coached the Lady Hawks from their 2006 inception and turned the program into a region and state title contender. His squads captured two region championships, made three postseason appearances, won 20 or more games over his last four seasons and finished third in the state last year in its second season as a Class AAAAA program.
However, when Scott Kelly elected to resign his position as the Lady Trojans coach following the 2011 season, Campbell chose to leave a growing program and take over an established one to be closer to his family.
Judging solely on the results thus far, Campbell’s move couldn’t have turned out better. The Lady Trojans started the season 15-0-1 and moved to No. 2 in the state rankings before a 5-3 eight-inning loss to Region 5AAAAAA foe Cherokee on Thursday. Entering today’s home matchup against top-ranked Kennesaw Mountain — who tied Lassiter 2-2 on Aug. 17 — the Lady Trojans are averaging 7.3 runs per game while giving up only 1.4 per contest.
Led by veteran senior starters Sammi Green, Veronica Ulicny, Kelsey Wertz and Mackenzie Kayler, Lassiter’s players and their new coach have adjusted well to one another and hope to see the success from this season continue.
“At first, meeting him with his success at Hillgrove, we had seen him around so we kind of knew him,” Green said. “But it was tough at first adjusting to the new ways of everything going on and how we have to do so many different things with him.
“I think he’s going to be best for the program. He’s going to improve everyone, including us four seniors as much as he can in the short time that he has. It looks like it’s working because we’ve had a great start.”
Ulicny agreed with Green on how things have been going.
“Coach Kelly was a fantastic coach,” she said. “He’s still here watching our games and cheering us on like he always has, but there was an adjustment (to Campbell). We had longer practices, different kinds of practices, different structured practices and ways we prepare and stuff.
“But all of us have adapted really well, and we have really good camaraderie with him and he was easy to get along with. We knew that things were going to change, but we were all ready to accept him and have a new season with him.”
Campbell’s transition has gone much like he expected. Because Hillgrove was such a young program, often Campbell did as much teaching how to play the game as he did coaching it. With a veteran squad like Lassiter, the focus has been more on coaching.
“The easiest adjustment for me is that these girls know how to play,” he said. “It’s not like I had to come in here and teach the game of softball. All of these girls play year-round. They just needed a little fine-tuning.
“I’ve been at several places and I’ve never had it easier coming into a program and being able to start off on day one and actually coach the game instead of having to teach the game. It was easy.”
It did, however, take time for Campbell to learn about his players and what they were about.
“It was a little difficult trying to learn the tendencies of the girls,” he said. “I’d seen them from a distance coaching against them the last three years, and getting an up close and personal look at them on the field and seeing how much knowledge they had of the game.
“That might have been a little difficult for me to understand. What they were capable of and what they weren’t capable of to make sure to put them in a position to be successful.”
Fortunately, during the adjustment, Lassiter continued to do what it does best: winning games. This season started with a 3-2 victory at then Class AAAAA No. 10 Allatoona followed by a 2-2 tie against then No. 3 Kennesaw Mountain.
The Lady Trojans then won 14 straight games before the setback against Cherokee, even surprising Campbell with the early season success.
“I’m a little surprised about how well we’ve started,” he said. “I don’t think anybody walks out on a field and says your invincible and you’ll go undefeated. It’s one game at a time and you have to play every pitch.”
With a seamless transition in tow, Campbell expects more success from his team because they play as a team.
“The biggest key to their success, and I just happen to be along to witness it, is that these girls get along,” he said. “They are a tight knit group, whether they’re a freshman or a senior. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that in a group, and we have 25 girls in the program. We have a group that gets along.
“They don’t fuss, they don’t fight. It’s softball and they’re out here for one common goal. That to me is the reason why they’re successful because that will carry them a long way. If they didn’t have that it could tear them down in a heartbeat. It’s how these girls interact with each other, and how they get along and how they encourage each other on the field and off the field. It’s almost unheard of.”
Ulicny sees the team’s chemistry too, and agrees that it’s been a major reason for their success, even under their new coach.
“It has been so exciting,” she said. “We’ve had a great run so far and we’re looking forward to continuing it. We have great camaraderie as a team. We all get along great and we’re just playing to win. That’s what we want to do. We’re trying to get to Columbus, and that’s our main goal and everyone is committed to it. We’re looking forward to the rest of the season.”