Halfway through her Ole Miss softball career, Brittany Broome, like the program itself, got to hit the reset button.
The Rebels hired a new head coach, Windy Thees, for the 2012 season and changes were obviously coming, for better or for worse. Now a senior, Broome can see just how much all of those adjustments have trended to the positive side.
"They're a lot more goal-oriented than the previous staff," the North Gwinnett grad said. "We set personal goals and team goals. It's nice to know what's expected of you and how those personal goals will help the team reach its goals. ... The team seems to be getting along better and functioning as a team better. We're trying to remember that softball is supposed to be fun. That's what everybody is realizing."
The new vibe surrounding the softball program has been a boost statistically for Broome, too.
The 5-foot-2, speedy outfielder is in the middle of the best season of her college career, which already was highlighted by breaking the Ole Miss career record for stolen bases --she now has 66.
The new coaches have given Broome more opportunities than her first two years of college, when she stole 11 bases each season. She stole 20 bases as a junior, ranking ninth in the Southeastern Conference, but already has 24 steals in 26 attempts this season, which is first in the league.
"We weren't as aggressive on the base paths (my first two seasons)," Broome said. "My junior year they let me go more. This year one of my goals is to steal at least 35 bases."
Broome is off to good start in that regard. She also is excelling in other areas offensively, including a .344 batting average. Her 32 hits are ninth-most in the SEC and she's second in the league with seven sacrifice bunts.
She continues to be a major catalyst for the Rebels, batting out of the No. 2 spot in the order.
"I finally feel like back when I was in high school," Broome said. "I'm relaxed. I'm comfortable. I'm confident. I really haven't had that the last couple of years. ... I'm back to that feeling from high school when I knew I could do anything. I could get that hit. I could steal that base. Now I'm back to that confident and relaxed feeling."
Staying relaxed with Broome's schedule may seem like a challenge, but she has enjoyed her busy senior year.
An early childhood education major, she has been a student teacher in the third grade at Oxford Elementary School since September. Her day at school begins at 7 a.m. and she leaves just before bus duty for softball practice, arriving a little late for those workouts. She follows practice with weight room work, then the rest of her night is filled with homework and lesson plans.
That's a typical day, at least when the Rebels don't have a game or a road trip.
"I have a crazy, crazy life right now," Broome said. "I'm usually tired at the end of the day, but it feels good to be working."
Broome plans to look for education jobs after graduation near Jacksonville State University (Ala.), where her fiancee Heath Thomas is a football coach. The two got engaged last month.
Before she focuses on a job, she has plenty of goals left for her final softball season. Ole Miss is off to the second-best start in program history at 18-12 entering a weekend series with powerful Missouri.
It's a considerable improvement from recent seasons for the Rebels. They were 29-27 in Broome's freshman season, slipped to 14-39 in 2011 and went 22-32 last year, the first under the new coaching staff.
With 28 games left in the regular season, the team has a shot at a major turnaround.
"Ole Miss has struggled in the past, but we're up and coming now," Broome said. "We're not just going to roll over and get beat. ... We are kind of doing the dirty work and laying the foundation for the future."
TRACK AND FIELD
shine at NCAAs
Collins Hill grads Amanda Winslow and Nicky Akande had standout performances at last weekend's NCAA Indoor Track and Field National Championships in Fayetteville, Ark.
Winslow, a Florida State senior, pushed race favorite and 2012 Olympian Emma Coburn, who runs for Colorado, to the finish in the mile. Winslow finished second in a school-record 4 minutes, 31.08 seconds, lowering her own mark, just behind Coburn's 4:33.22.
The performance earned her All-American honors and a spot in this summer's U.S. Track and Field National Championships.
"I sat down this morning and talked about a race plan and it went almost exactly how we predicted it," Winslow said after the race. "I just stuck to the plan. I wish I had a little bit more left in the end, but I'm extremely satisfied with it --a PR, a school record and I qualified for USA's."
Akande, a Villanova junior, also was a first-team All-American with her distance medley relay team, which finished as national runner-up. She ran the third leg, the 800-meter run, in 2:06.43.
Brookwood grads shine at NCAA swimming
Former Brookwood swimmers made a big mark at last weekend's NCAA Division II Championships in Birmingham.
Florida Southern freshman Kelsey Gouge earned seven All-American or honorable mention All-American awards, highlighted by a third-place finish nationally in the 100-yard breaststroke and a fourth-place finish in the 50 freestyle. Her school-record 100 breast time (1:02.72), her 50 free time (23.02) and her ninth-place 100 free time (50.45) were all the fastest times of the meet by a freshman in those events.
She helped Florida Southern to a sixth-place finish in the team standings along with fellow Moccasin Stephanie Doran, a Mill Creek grad who won three All-American honors on relays and upped her career total to nine All-American awards in two seasons at FSC.
The Florida Southern men finished as national runner-up, with contributions from Brookwood grads Robbie Swan and Thomas Nguyen.
Swan swam on a national championship 200 medley relay that also set a meet record of 1:27.21. He also earned All-American honors with the 400 free relay, setting a school 100 free record at 43.62, the 400 medley relay (43.66 100 free leg) and the 200 free relay (20.13 50 free leg).
Individually, Swan was fourth in the 100 free (44.12).
Nguyen was seventh in the 200 backstroke in 1:48.17, while teammate Bruce Janzen of Collins Hill was fifth in the consolation final of the 200 fly.
Another Brookwood grad, Queens University (N.C.) freshman Michael Trice, placed fourth nationally in the 50 free. His time was 20.02.
Shealy earns Big 12 award
Iowa State junior Michelle Shealy, a Providence Christian grad, was named the Big 12 Conference event specialist of the week on Monday.
Shealy, the 2011 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, won the beam title at two meets last week --at Iowa and in a four-team meet at UCLA. She scored a season-high 9.875 on the beam in both meets. She also scored a career-high 9.900 on bars in the UCLA meet, which featured No. 3 ranked Michigan, No. 6 UCLA and California.
Ardeeser extends hitting streak
Clay Ardeeser of Grayson extended his hitting streak to 18 games Wednesday in Georgia College and State University's win over West Georgia.
Ardeeser leads the Bobcats in hitting (.397) and has three homers, 26 RBIs and a .495 on-base percentage.
Krahn gets SAA's weekly honor
Mill Creek grad Jordan Krahn, a sophomore at Oglethorpe, was named the Southern Athletic Association women's golfer of the week on Thursday.
Krahn shot a personal-best 78 the previous week, finishing 16th out of 75 golfers at the Rome News-Tribune Invitational. She also shot a match-best 86 in a dual match victory over Ohio Northern.
Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.