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Grizzlies grow through adversity in first season

Georgia Gwinnett College softball coach Kat Ihlenburg knew it was going to be a tough start to the season.

She was right.

The weather played the biggest role, first delaying the opening of the Grizzlies sparkling new field and then by wreaking havoc on the schedule Ihlenburg so carefully constructed for its inaugural campaign.

The end result was a March filled with cancellations.

"It seemed like we were rained out every weekend in March," Ihlenburg said. "Then we spent April on the road.

"But the team showed such tremendous heart for adversity. We focused on the one-pitch mentality."

GGC finished its first season with an 18-26 overall record and played a number of ranked teams. The Gulf Coast Invitational at the beginning of March was particularly tough. The Grizzlies lost all five of their games there. But it was also good for them.

"It really revealed our character through loss," Ihlenburg said. "We played the toughest schedule we could to start. Then when it came to playing good teams later in the season, we were able to beat some of them.

"The team's growth potential really came to fruition in April."

GGC was just under .500 in the final month of the season, but that included series against No. 9 Reinhart, No. 4 Lee University and No. 11 USC-Beaufort. All on the road.

"Looking at the first 10 games and the last 10 games, we played tremendously well," Ihlenburg said. "We won some games against ranked teams and we're getting to where we want to be. We focused on the last two weeks being our championship run."

The Grizzlies weren't eligible for playoffs this season. They are next year. Ihlenburg has already talked to some of the players about expectations for 2014.

"One of the big things we talk about is setting good goals," Ihlenburg said. "Being over .500, beating more than one top 25 team.

"We finished with a .290 batting average," she said. "Our goal was .300. So we talked about where were those extra six hits?"

Ihlenburg was still very pleased with the progress of the team and several individuals specifically.

Collins Hill grad Ashleigh Simmons routinely came through for the team at the plate and in the field as a utility player. Another freshman, Alycia Fields struggled with a batting average around .100 in March, but broke through to finish over .300. Sophomore Jordyn Fones also had a great season in center field for GGC.

"It was a season filled with interesting ups and downs," Ihlenburg said, "which is not unexpected in a first season."

The focus has already turned to the recruiting trail and adding more talent as the program builds.

"The building and the facilities we have are certainly one of our biggest assets," Ihlenburg said.

She is planning to go to several tournaments this summer, including ones in the metro area and Spartanburg, S.C.

Ihlenburg is also offering a camp of her own at GGC June 24-27 for girls age 6 to those entering high school. Details and registration is available at grizzlysoftballcamps.com.