By Devin Golden
Aubrey Shields’ first time as a high school softball coach will be at Southeast Whitfield.
Southeast hired Shields, an Alabama native, to replace Kelley Barton, who resigned toward the end of the school year. Shields met with the returning players on Tuesday.
“We weren’t unhappy with anything,” Southeast athletic director Mark Lentych said. “It was something she (Barton) decided.”
The Lady Raiders went 18-35 the past two seasons under Barton, a Southeast graduate. They earned 11 of those victories in 2012, eight wins better than the previous season, but in both of Barton’s seasons they came up short of the state playoffs, which the school last made in 2005.
Shields is a 2009 graduate of Valley Head (Ala.) High School who was a pitcher and outfielder during her playing days. Her career ended after one season at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain; she didn’t play when she transferred to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga after her freshman year. She graduated from UTC this spring, earning a degree in secondary education and history, and will teach world history at Southeast.
This won’t be Shields’ first coaching position, however — she oversaw a select softball travel team last summer in Alabama — but it will be her first time leading a high school team. The Chattanooga resident noted the area’s softball prestige as one attraction.
Northwest Whitfield High School won back-to-back Class 4A state titles the past two seasons, and other programs in northwest Georgia have also had state-level success in recent years.
“As far as the softball community goes, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Whitfield County,” Shields said. “The administration is incredible. As a young coach, they seem equipped to help me out as much as they can and do everything for the girls as well.”
The Lady Raiders struggled at times to field a complete team last season, with injuries playing a part, and had to reschedule at least one game as a result of being short of the required number of players.
Shields expects to have plenty of players. One is pitcher and shortstop Sydney Covington, a two-time member of The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Softball Team. Covington, who will be a junior, has been Southeast’s pitching ace since her freshman season.
Also expected to return is Cricket Wyatt, who missed her junior season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament but was back in time for basketball season and made the All-Area lineup for that sport.
“From the ones I met Tuesday and from what I’ve heard, the kids who are playing definitely want to play and be here,” Shields said. “They seemed eager.”
Shields shares their passion.
“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” she said.
Her enthusiasm made an impact on Lentych, Southeast principal Denise Pendley and other administrators who were part of the hiring process.
“We were really impressed with her,” Lentych said. “She has a great attitude and work ethic. She’s excited and already has done some pre-planning for the season.”