By Tim Chambers
The Chambers boys have been working all the live-long day in Roan Mountain, but it’s not been on the railroad. Coaches Kenneth and Rusty Chambers have been hard at it for the past two weeks trying to get softball season up and going at Cloudland High School.
Not only are they getting the high school program ready, but they’ve also added a junior high program.
In addition to working with 40 kids in the afternoon, the coaches, with the help of some parents and coach Lauren James, have groomed the infield, mowed the grass and put up a temporary outfield fence.
The biggest problem thus far has been trying to find transportation and a bus driver for away games.
The team is coming off a nine-win season and a third place finish in the Watauga Valley Conferencer, plus it returns almost the entire starting lineup.
“Our kids feel like they have a good shot of doing better this year,” head coach Kenneth Chambers said. “They know a lot of teams lost some good players, but what’s hurt us is lack of practice time. We got a late start because of basketball, so we’ve been outside only five days. But the positive is our kids are excited about playing and ready to go.”
The Highlanders have beefed up the schedule to try and get better. They opened the season at home on Thursday against Virginia High.
The Lady Bearcats lost 2-1 in the Virginia state championship last year and have several players back from that squad. The Highlanders fell 12-2, but played well in the field.
Cloudland will rely on two seniors — Hope Baker and Summer Hughes — heavily this spring.
Baker played well behind the plate last year and will once again handle the catching duties. Hughes will trade her basketball sneakers for cleats and play shortstop in addition to being the backup pitcher.
“Both are good defensive players and hitters,” said Chambers. “We need them to play well in order to be successful.”
Dakota Jarrett (So.) will play at first and had been tearing the cover off the ball. The Highlanders will start a pair of freshmen — Kendall Mull at second base and Martina Presnell in center field.
‘They’re both good athletes that have excellent speed and can play well defensively,” added Chambers. “We’re hoping to get their bats up to where their defense is. They played as eighth-graders last year and got some good experience. We’re confident in their abilities.”
Both played basketball in addition to Hughes and Mattison McKinney.
McKinney could be the best hitter on the team and can certainly tag the long ball, but she’s out for at least two weeks with an injury.
“We’re hoping to get her back in a couple of weeks from an injury that happened during basketball,” Chambers said. “She can play anywhere in the field depending upon where she’s needed the most.”
Hunter McKinney (P, Jr.) returns on the mound after winning eight games in the circle last year.
She’ll also bat in the two spot and is one of the team’s top hitters.
“Hunter’s a very consistent pitcher that throws strikes, hits the corners and is very dependable,” Chambers said. “We’re expecting a lot from her this year.”
Kelly King (Jr.) will hold down the hot corner as a third-year starter. Andrea Guinn and Savannah Whitehead round out the starters in right and left field, respectively, and both are pretty good hitters. Rachel Sparks is another player that will see plenty of action as well.
Chambers knows they’ve got some catching up to do, but he feels like he and his staff can get them up to snuff.
“We’ve got 19 high school players and 21 middle school girls that we practice every day,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but we’re trying hard to build a good program. We know it can’t be done overnight, but we have to start somewhere. All the girls and coaches are working hard to try and make it happen.”