BUFORD — Usually this time of year, Tony Wolfe has just one thing on his mind: softball.
The long-time Buford girls softball coach has built a dynasty rivaled in all of Georgia high school sports only by the Jefferson wrestling program. The Lady Wolves have won 10 consecutive state titles spanning four different classifications. Jefferson wrestlers have won 17 straight Traditional titles and 16 straight Duals titles by comparison.
However, as the Lady Wolves prepare for their 2017 season-opener against Class AAAAAAA South Forsyth on Tuesday, Wolfe has had a few other things he is having to think about these days.
After the end of the 2017 baseball season in May, Wolfe announced that he was stepping down from the baseball program after 21 seasons to take over as Buford’s assistant athletic director. He stayed on to coach the softball team but his days now find him juggling between still teaching classes, administrative work, and practice.
“It’s been a little more hectic than usual but anytime you start something new there is always going to be time needed to get adjusted,” he said. “My (AD) responsibilities right now are on learning how to run the department on a day-to-day basis. There’s lots of meetings and conference calls and just taking some of the load off (Athletic Director) Coach (Dexter) Wood. But I still love being in a classroom and I’m going to try and keep doing that until I can’t handle it anymore.”
Despite his new duties, Wolfe had no problem discussing his latest team, which on paper could be his best since he took over the program in 2007.
Nine players return from last year’s 32-2 squad, including the Lady Wolves’ top two pitchers. Senior right-hander Logan Caymol, the 2016 Class AAAAA state Pitcher of the Year and a Tennessee commit (17-1, 121 1/3 IP, 67 H, 0.87 ERA, 156 K, 52 BB) and senior righty Ansley Byers (11-1, 65 1/3 IP, 55 H, 0.64 ERA, 32 K, 9 BB) give Buford a nearly unbeatable duo in the circle. They also return seven position players, including 2016 Class AAAAA state Player of the Year and Duke commit in senior centerfielder/shortstop Arielle Oda (.420 BA, 42 H, 44 R, 14 RBI, 4 2B, 4 3B, 28 SB).
Also returning is senior 2016 first-team All-State catcher Hannah Jo Hyatt (.384 BA, 38 Hits, 14 R, 29 RBI, 5 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR); junior first baseman Katie Perkins (.321 BA, 25 Hits, 13 R, 17 RBI, 2 2B, 3 3B, North Carolina commit); senior shortstop Kelsey Bennett (.333 BA, 10 Hits, 10 R, 9 RBI, 4 2B, 3 HR) who missed 22 games due to injury and is a Virginia Tech commit; junior third baseman Shea Bayreuther (.295 BA, 26 H, 18 R, 25 RBI, 7 2B, 1 3B, Young Harris commit); junior left fielder Mariah Wicker (.420 BA, 42 H, 34 R, 21 RBI, 4 2B, 4 3B, 17 SB) and senior right fielder Gabby Benson (.287 BA, 27 H, 17 R, 21 RBI, 5 2B, 4 SB, Georgia State commit).
Junior catcher Hannah Morgan (.250 BA, 8 H, 2 R, 5 RBI, 1 2B) gives Wolfe and Buford both of their experienced catchers back behind the plate in 2017. Sophomore Anabel Adams is the only non-upperclassman to crack the starting lineup manning second base.
“It’s probably one of the better teams coming back we’ve ever had,” Wolfe said. “Besides the two pitchers coming back I’m excited about both of our catchers coming back. It’s such an important position and we have a lot of experience there.
“I think it’s a tough lineup and we’re hoping for some even bigger years from most of them. We’re also excited about some of the younger players. We think Anabel could one of the next really good young players so we’re excited to see what she can do at the varsity level.”
Once again Wolfe has assembled a challenging schedule that features nearly a dozen playoff teams, including three games against defending Class AAAAAAA state champion North Gwinnett. The Lady Wolves have seven games scheduled against teams in the highest classification overall, including a matchup with East Coweta in the next-to-last regular season game. The Lady Indians are led by one of the top pitchers in her class in junior Kelley Lynch, who had 204 strikeouts in 107 innings with an 0.72 earned run average in 2016.
“We’re hoping our schedule, especially with North Gwinnett, will help us prepare for the playoffs, which is always our goal,” Wolfe said. “The girl from East Coweta should be a great challenge for us.”
But, they will open on Tuesday at home against South Forsyth, a team they beat twice in 2016, once in 10 innings (8-3), and have been without 12 of their top players, who were all playing in tournaments around the nation last week to close out the summer season.
Buford will take part in the Peachtree Ridge Tournament over the weekend following the opener and then, after a return trip to South Forsyth, will participate in the Hawk/Bulldog Tournament Aug. 16-19 before a home-and-home series with North Gwinnett on Aug. 22 and 24. The Lady Wolves will open Region 8-AAAAA play Aug. 31 at Loganville.
“We were at full strength for the first time Monday,” Wolfe said. “We had two close games with (South Forsyth) last year and we expect another tough test. It’s a great way to open the season.
“We’re always trying to find the best competition we can. That is always our goal. We also expect our region to be very tough again.”