Staff Photo: David Friedlander. Suwanee resident Sharon Perkins is in her fourth season as Georgia Tech's softball coach.
As strange at it may seem given the recent cold snap, preparation for many spring sports has already begun at college campuses around the country. That includes Georgia Tech, where Sharon Perkins begins her fourth season as coach of the Yellow Jackets' softball team. Perkins resides in Suwanee with her husband, Cris, and children, Katie and Nicholas.
The Sarasota, Fla., native recently spoke with staff writer David Friedlander on subjects ranging from the upcoming season to Tech's increased recruiting presence in Gwinnett County to juggling her schedule between coaching and watching her 9-year-old daughter play travel softball during the summer.
DF: The Tech program was already in pretty good shape when you took over in 2007, but the team seems to have taken incremental steps up since your arrival, with NCAA tournament bids each season and culminating in last season's ACC championship and the program's first trip to a Super Regional. Is it safe to say you see making the Women's College World Series as a realistic next step this spring?
SP: That's what we're shooting for. We've definitely put our time and effort into it and our love into it, and the players do, also. It's fun, but that's what you want to get to. That's the ultimate goal -- to get to the World Series."
DF: Given the fact a new academic semester has just begun and considering the recent cold snap, how tough has it been to get workouts in?
SP: You know, (the players') schedules are a little crazy sometimes, but academics is definitely the most important thing. I do my best. I work around their schedules. They major in what they want to, and we just work around it.
DF: You have two players who went to Gwinnett high schools -- sophomore pitcher Jessica Coan (GAC) and sophomore infielder Shannon Bear (Grayson) -- currently on the roster and two more -- Buford catcher/third baseman Alysha Rudnik and Grayson infielder Hayley Downs -- who signed with you in the fall. It seems like Georgia, especially Gwinnett County, has become a recruiting hotbed in recent years.
SP: It's been amazing. The last couple years -- really, the last five -- Georgia, in general, has made a big jump. Now, you've got a lot of out-of-state schools that ... have come into recruit Georgia kids. ... And in Gwinnett (specifically). I guess it's the travel ball programs. They're playing a higher level at a younger age. I have a 9-year-old, and it's crazy. She's playing travel ball already. It's amazing to (think), "In five years, you're going to be getting looked at (by college programs)." It's scary, but that's how it is.
DF: With your daughter now playing travel ball, that makes you awfully busy in the summer trying to balance that schedule with all the recruiting you'll be doing, isn't it?
SP: It's tough. This will be the first summer she'll actually be playing. So, it will be interesting. Luckily, I have two great assistants (Todd Downes and Aileen Morales) that can go out and do some recruiting for me, as well. It's so tough because I feel like I have to go out and ... see the kids myself, but it'll be interesting to see how I can balance it. ... It's going to be tough to miss out on some of her games.
DF: You were an assistant for eight years before coming to Tech. What has been the biggest adjustment you've had to make in becoming a head coach?
SP: I feel like it (actually) got easier. Having kids, it's tough to be an assistant because it's tough for somebody else to say, "You have to go recruit here. You have to go recruit there." You don't really know your schedule. It's not solid. Whereas now, I can look at the schedule and go, "I know my daughter has a big tournament this weekend and maybe I don't have to be somewhere." I can delegate that. Just peace of mind-wise and family-wise, I think it's been easier.
DF: You've also been around long enough to have seen a lot of changes in the college softball scene. Instead of the same programs dominating, it seems like there's more parity throughout the country these days. Do you agree?
SP: Yeah. For sure. It used to always be Arizona or UCLA -- always the same (teams). ... But Alabama was (in the Women's College World Series) and Tennessee was there a couple years ago. Florida. It just seems to be moving this way.
DF: OK, you mentioned that you were an assistant before you came to Tech. Not many fans may realize your job immediately before coming here was as associate head coach at Georgia. That had to have raised some eyebrows.
SP: (Laughs) Yes, huge rivalry.
DF: You don't usually see many coaches go from one school to the other.
SP: (Laughs) Big change. It's just a crazy to begin with. It's funny because their big thing when they (play) Georgia Tech (in any sport), they're like, "Nerds! Nerds! Nerds!" But hey, (Tech graduates) are the ones who make all the money.
DF: On a more serious note, Tech's program has undergone a few changes since you arrived, most notably, the $5 million, 1,500-seat Shirley Clements Mewborn Field that opened last spring. That has to have been a big help to you not only logistically, but also with recruiting. Was that something that was in the works before you got here and did it help convince you to take the job?
SP: I think when I interviewed, (Tech athletics director) Dan (Radakovich) spoke about a facility. I don't know if it was actually in the works (or just in the planning stages). ... The kids who were already here didn't want to come here for a big stadium. They were here for academics and a strong softball team. ... So, I didn't have to recruit to that, but it definitely helps. It's amazing. It's beautiful. ... You have certain things like lights. Sometimes my kids have late classes ... and it's nice to be able to play a night game. It's nice to have indoor (batting) cages when it rains or is cold. It's nice to have those things. It just makes our lives easier, and they work so hard already.
DF: You lose three pretty important players from last year's team, including record-setting, All-American slugger Whitney Haller. However, you seem to have a pretty good nucleus returning. How excited are you to get started with the potential this team has?
SP: It's fun. It's exciting to see what we think we might have. ... You don't know until you get out there to prove yourself against other great teams. Our conference is strong. But it's fun. It's fun to get to see people in the stands. It's fun to have the recruits come out and see you play. It's just a great environment.
DF: Finally, what roles do you see your two Gwinnett players -- Coan and Bear -- filling this season?
SP: (Coan) was clutch at the end of last season (she finished 8-5 with a 3.42 ERA and 102 strikeouts). She'll have a lot of innings (this season) ... and hopefully, she'll pick up where she left off. ... Shannon Bear, we'll see if she can get some playing time. (She hit .350 with 5 HR and 13 RBIs last season). She came in some clutch situations hitting the ball. ... She's nice because she can play both infield and outfield and run bases and do some other things.