Pssst: Cannon School's softball team won the state championship last year. Pass it on.
Taking the same approach this season as he did with the Cougars last season, coach Pat Moyer said winning a second consecutive private/independent schools 3A state championship isn't a topic of conversation at preseason practice.
Invoking his mantra that his players "play the game the right way, take care of each other and have fun," Moyer said his team's goals this year are no different than they were in 2011.
The team's new status as defending state champs and as a contender for a repeat is something of an elephant on the field, though.
"In the back of our minds, we all think about defending the title," said Moyer. "Everyone thinks it was something special, but we're not going to let it ruin our season if it doesn't happen. We didn't worry about it last year. We can't control injuries and things other teams are doing. So we don't try to think about it."
Cannon School's state championship run was a bit of a surprise. Before last season, the Cougars (19-2 overall, 8-0 in the 3A Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association) had never reached a state final in their five-year history. They almost doubled their win total from the 2010 season.
"One of the things I've done as a coach is not talk about winning," said Moyer. "I think it takes the focus off things you're supposed to do every day. We focus on the process.
"We're coming together as a team, trusting each other, working on hitting and catching ... the same things as last year."
Returning from last year's team are accomplished seniors Kenzie Moyer (P/1B, .569 BA, 40 RBI, 16-2 pitching record, all-state), Stephanie Gray (P/3B, .431 BA, 26 RBI, all-CISAA) and Jessica Randolph, a centerfielder who had an errorless 2011 season. Concord High transfer Caitlin Steel brings a strong arm and a big bat to the catching position.
Another independent school, Concord First Assembly (3-12, 2-11), continues to rebuild. Freshman Mollie Johnson (P, .308 BA, 12 RBI), sophomore Katie Cates (catcher) and junior Rylee Troutman (3B, .277 BA, 14 RBI) return as the Eagles try to move up in the Metrolina Athletic 2A/3A Conference).
South Piedmont 3A
Among the public school conferences, the South Piedmont 3A race may be wide open this season.
Northwest Cabarrus and Concord Robinson tied for the regular-season championship in 2011 but lost key players. Central Cabarrus was just a game away from making it a three-way tie and returns eight starters.
Robinson (17-8, 11-3) returns the conference pitcher of the year in senior Dallas King, who was also named all-state. Sophomore outfielder Tori Zavodny, junior Kayla England and seniors Allie Schill and Paige Calloway are among the team's top returning players. Freshmen Kelly Romine and Lauren Soucie figure to make a big impact.
SPC tournament champion Northwest Cabarrus (22-6, 11-3) also has a strong arm returning in all-conference sophomore pitcher Katie Williford (.413 BA, 165 K, 1.31 ERA). The Trojans' only returning seniors are well-rounded shortstop Lindsay Shore and right-handed contact hitter Taylor Van Ham, a third baseman
One of Central Cabarrus' (17-8, 10-4) top veterans is two-time all-state third baseman Tori Cragan (.414 BA), a heady power hitter with a good glove. Fellow seniors Mellena Helms (SS/P, .391 BA), Ali Hartsell (OF, .320 BA) and Lex Bruce (OF, .295 BA) are all great defensive players with pop in their bats.
Hickory Ridge (13-7, 9-5) figures to be in the hunt for the SPC championship with conference Player of the Year Ally Yeager (senior, 2B, .422 BA, all-state) returning. She's a rangy infielder who hits for power and average.
All-conference players Alexis Eudy (senior, P, 13 RBI), Hannah Bright (senior, C) and Jessie Hagler (junior, 1B), who was second on the team with a .379 BA, also return.
With five starters back, Cox Mill (13-8, 8-6) figures to be in the thick of things. The big bats of leftfielder Nicole Shepherd and first baseman Jessica Stafford, the Chargers' defensive player of the year last year, will provide senior leadership.
Sophomore catcher Ericka David, who played infield in 2011, and junior centerfielder Kristen Stinnard are both solid all-around players. Sophomore Kendele Donaldson will likely be the primary pitcher after starting at second base last season.
At Mount Pleasant, four-year starting pitcher Taylor Carpenter (senior, .344 BA) will try to elevate the Tigers' (9-14, 5-9) league standing after a disappointing 2011 season. Also returning are juniors Brandi Hudson (3B/P, .354 BA), who can hit for average and power, and Sarah Harkey (C, .352 BA), one of the team leaders.
For the first time in 18 years, Concord (5-18, 2-12) has a new coach. Succeeding Natalie Tucker, head coach Craig Craver will count on two-time all-conference player Kristen Durant (senior, P), speedy junior shortstop Ashleigh Ivey and the unselfish play of junior catcher Haley Mullins.
A group of senior leaders hopes this is Kannapolis Brown's (4-14, 0-14) breakout season. Third baseman Tiffany Cobler, second baseman Samantha Luangkhot, pitcher/shortstop Sara Tuttle and first baseman Jessica Dakins will try to help the Wonders win their first SPC game since 2009.
North Piedmont 3A
Four starters return for South Rowan (7-10, 4-8) in the North Piedmont 3A. Kaitylyn Jones (senior, SS) has good range and power at the plate. Kayla Corriher (senior, OF) was an all-conference selection last year. Katherine Starnes (junior, C) has a quick release from behind the dish, and Emma Pope (junior, OF) has excellent speed and a strong arm.
For China Grove Carson, speedy outfielder Jakey Clark and shortstop Heather Yount will be starting for the fourth straight year. Fellow senior Chloe Monroe will be in the lineup, in either the infield or the outfield. Junior Sidney Grkman will also provide quickness in the outfield.