Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Collins Hill Softball player Brittany Roley is one of three players on the Collins Hill roster who have been starters during each of their state championships the last two years. The Senior is probably the least heralded of the group but most important as she is the table setter at the top of the batting order and a strong defensive centerfielder.
SUWANEE -- Throughout Collins Hill's run to Class AAAAA state softball championships the last two years, pitcher Kayla Floor -- the two-time Daily Post Pitcher of the Year -- and third baseman Mckenzie Halstead have been two of the most notable constants.
However, there is another member of the team's 10-person senior class that was also a starter on both title teams who has been just as big a role, though perhaps not as heralded.
And as the No. 5 state-ranked Eagles begin their quest for a three-peat against second-ranked East Coweta in the opening round of this year's state tournament Thursday at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus, Brittany Roley will be needed to as big a factor as her classmates.
"Being a senior, you realize this is it, and this is your last chance to go out with a bang," Roley said of her leadership role with the Eagles (25-7). "You try to get everyone else to want to win as much as you do."
Indeed, Roley's role as a team leader is definitely a different one from the one she played while patrolling the outfield during Collins Hill's 2009 and 2010 title teams.
With most established leaders like Floor and Halstead -- as well as older leaders like Christina Parham, Sammy Lenahan, Kacey Hawkshead and Aerika Miles -- Roley was content to lurk more in the background.
But that has very much changed this season, something first-year Collins Hill head coach Paul Pierce has been pleased to see.
"I'm proud of her and proud for her," Pierce said. "She was kind of a support (player), so to speak, last year. This year, she's really helped tremendously in the leadership roles. We'd have team meetings, and she's usually the one calling them. She takes leadership seriously.
"I ask her questions about how things are going because I know she's going to give me her answer, not the answer (she thinks) I want to hear. I think that's the sign of a good leader."
But as much as Roley's off-field role has changed, her on-field role has undergone an even more drastic alteration.
After hitting at the bottom of the order the past two years for the Eagles, the senior centerfielder was inserted into the leadoff spot in the batting order, something she admits took quite a bit of getting used to throughout the fall.
"I was used to hitting at the end of the line-up," Roley said. "In travel ball, I'm used to hitting towards the middle. So this year, hitting leadoff, I had to try to step up and set the tone every time I came up.
"I've watched a lot more pitches, and I've just kind of tried to put the ball in play and try to get on base as many times as possible. Baserunning is probably one of my favorite parts of the game. I like getting on base and trying to make things happen, and put myself in a position to make (opponents) make plays on me."
Though it has been a work in progress, Roley has done a solid job fulfilling her role, hitting .375, stealing eight bases and scoring 35 runs to rank among the Eagles' team leaders in each category.
Perhaps the best example of how well she has adapted came during Collins Hill's sweep of Etowah in last week's second round of the state playoffs.
In addition to going 3-for-6 on the day, she reached base a total of five times in her eight plate appearances and came around to score four times, accounting for 40 percent of the Eagles' runs on the day.
And Pierce appreciates the effort it took for Roley to fit into her new role.
"I think the thing she really had to adjust to at the beginning of the year was that she was a little bit of a free swinger," Pierce said. "She'd end up chasing some pitches and getting herself out. So, I think she's done a great job of working in practice, and carrying over to the game, of being more disciplined at the plate. I think that helping set the table early in our lineup."
That lead by example attitude is something Roley hopes to tap into this weekend in Columbus, which she hopes ends the same way her previous two trips there have -- with the Eagles hoisting the trophy on the stadium field on Saturday.
"It's one of the best experiences you'll ever have," said Roley, who has attracted interest from several college programs like Georgia Southern, Troy, East Tennessee State and Villanova. "You're playing with your closest friends all year. You're playing for everything that you've dreamed since you were a freshman. It's just a bunch of friends."