BUFORD -- After winning a state championship, conventional wisdom would tell you that what goes up must go down, that nothing gold can stay, and that the king of the hill can't stay there forever. That is to say, successful teams build expectations higher and higher, sometimes so high that they become detrimental.
Tony Wolfe, head coach of the Buford softball team, knows everything there is to know about expectations. After agreeing to coach softball (on top of leading the baseball team) in 2007, Wolfe led the Lady Wolves to a AA championship in his first year, setting the standard incredibly high for the remainder of his tenure.
"Expectations are dangerous; they can create a monster if you allow it and become a heavy burden to carry if you let it; so we chose to focus on things we can control rather than streaks, championships, etc," Wolfe said.
Saying that Wolfe's strategies to avoid expectations "found success" might be the understatement of the decade. Wolfe and his Lady Wolves quickly built a dynasty, winning state titles again in 2008, '09, '10, and '11 -- setting a new record of five state championships in a row -- all in coach Wolfe's first five seasons.
The Lady Wolves have done so thanks in part to an unprecedented wave of talent: Buford softball has sent 14 girls to play NCAA ball via scholarship over the past five seasons.
"Our talent level has been unreal for the past five years," Wolfe said. "Our players have been even better kids than players so that has made it much easier. There is good and bad with any successful program, but overall this has been a great run and the relationships and memories will stay with us forever."
An unprecedented talent core may explain some of Buford's successes, but Wolfe's unique coaching philosophy may explain the rest.
"Our program is built on the Bible verses Psalms 37: 3-6. In the philosophy, we ask our kids to 'Trust, Delight and Commit,' " Wolfe said. "Trust in your teammates and coaches, delight in each other, the game of softball and representing Buford High School and commit to each other, to the coaches and our program and things will work out."
According to Wolfe, his philosophy is so successful not because it produces a healthy win/loss column but because it produces productive young women.
"The TDC defines who we are, how we act, how we treat each other," Wolfe said. "We try to apply these attitudes to all we do and it seems to keep us grounded and focused on each other as opposed to championships."
Wolfe may know how to deal with expectations, but that does not mean that his squad will be a sure thing for their sixth state victory in a row. The program lost five graduating starters last season (notably Kallie Case and Lexi Overstreet, two members of ESPN's Top 100 Softball Prospects list).
This isn't exactly unchartered territory, however. Buford lost five starters before last season and still found a way to win the Class AA crown.
"We lost a ton of talent last year as we did the year before," Wolfe said, "but we have a great core of starters back (Pitchers/firstbase Bria Bush and Tessa Daniels, 2B Jordan Deep, outfielders Bekah Rude and Remington Hasty and catcher Noah Sudderth) to build around and a number of players who have been waiting and working for their chance to contribute so I think we will be competing at a high level by the end of the season."