Being outdoors was anything but great for most people on Tuesday afternoon, but don't try telling that to the Milledgeville softball team.
The Missiles, who enter 2013 seeking their third consecutive trip deep into the postseason, were able to practice outdoors for the first time this spring. They weren't able to use their own facility, adjacent to Milledgeville High School, but instead ventured to the fields next to the junior high in Chadwick.
"Even though it's cold," senior outfielder Kelsey Hayen said, "it feels like softball now."
Milledgeville coach Brad Grenoble got a call Tuesday morning from Chadwick resident Jim Mertz, who indicated he had worked on the fields, one for the varsity and one for the fresh-soph, enough to get them suitable for an outside practice. Grenoble jumped at the chance.
"I texted them all [Tuesday] morning at 9 o'clock and said let's go outside," Grenoble said. "They were supposed to be here at 4 o'clock. I got here at 3:40 and everybody was already here and ready to go."
Senior pitcher Emily Bush noted the team has been sharing gym time with the baseball team, as well as the track teams. The Missiles practice late at night, and there's only so much that can be accomplished, since infield and outfield work need to be done outdoors.
"We can't really get everything done that we need to do because we're limited on time and we're limited on space," Bush said. "It's just really nice to get outside, even though it's still a little bit mushy and cold."
Bush is one of six starters returning for the Missiles from last year's 26-9 team that finished third in the Class 1A state tournament. The year before, Milledgeville, earned its first supersectional berth before being eliminated by United.
Grenoble, an assistant coach a year ago to Sarah Spears, noted the Missiles enter the season with a bit of a target on their backs. In the past, that wasn't necessarily the case.
Two years ago, according to Grenoble, the top dog was Orangeville, who the Missiles beat in a sectional final. Last year, the main hurdle to be cleared was Amboy, which Milledgeville got past in a sectional final.
"This year, everybody's talking about us," Grenoble said. "I told the girls, 'Now you're the hunted. You're going to get everybody's best every day.' That's what they've got to prepare for."
The Missiles seem well-equipped to deal with whatever is thrown their way this season. In addition to Bush, who went 16-1 with a 0.27 earned run average as a junior, Milledgeville returns junior catcher Courtney Swalve, junior third baseman Morgan Adolph, junior first baseman Kayleigh Leddy, junior second baseman Taylor Grenoble and senior center fielder Hayen to its lineup.
Hayen played second base a year ago, but with two of last year's outfielders, Brooke Kappes and Jestine Imel, having graduated, Grenoble thought his outfield could use a boost. In stepped Hayen, who volunteered to take over in center.
"That's pretty good when you have a senior that comes and says, 'I don't care where you put me – just put me where we can win the best,'" Grenoble said. "That makes it easy on a coach. It shows the kids want to win, and that's what it's all about with them. It's cool."
Hayen was a pinch-runner as a freshman, a third baseman as a sophomore and a second baseman as a junior, and is confident the transition to the outfield will be a smooth one. She noted it's simply doing what's best for the team.
"The one thing we're definitely focusing on this year is teamwork and becoming one as a team," Hayen said. "That's really important, and it's going to take us far."
2012: Finished 26-9 and third in Class 1A
Returning starters: Emily Bush (sr. pitcher); Kelsey Hayen (sr. OF); Taylor Grenoble (jr. 2B); Kayleigh Leddy (jr. 1B); Morgan Adolph (jr. 3B); Courtney Swalve (jr. C)