The three individuals who earned the highest All-West Georgia softball awards faced a different kind of pressure coming into this season.
Brookstone's Nate McConnell was a first-year head coach. His top pitcher Helen Snavely was a sophomore shouldering the load for the team for the first time. Harris County's Kayla Cotton was a proven commodity, but as a junior this year was called upon to be a leading producer offensively and as a pitcher.
All three performed at the highest of levels and, as a result, have been named the Ledger-Enquirer All-West Georgia coach, pitcher and player of the year, respectively.
Here's a look at their seasons and what distinguished them from the others.
Player of the Year: Kayla Cotton, Harris County
Cotton was one of a number of key offensive producers on the Lady Tigers. She wasn't the only one who was considered for the top award.
What set her apart, though, was her dominance at the plate as well as in the circle, helping to lead Harris County to the Region 1-AAAAA title and a trip to the second round of the state playoffs. While Harris County's playoff trip ended a game short of the state tournament, Cotton's production was simply dominant.
She batted .308, lower than some of her teammates. What she lacked in average, though, she made up for in home runs and RBIs, recording eight and 26, respectively. She also had an on-base percentage of .448. As a pitcher, she won 20 games with a 1.82 ERA.
She is just a junior and will play one more season with Harris County. After that, though, she is headed to play at the University of Georgia.
"I had so much fun this year," Cotton said. "I didn't do as well hitting in the beginning, but I got better as the season went along. And pitching, from last year, I did
a ton better."
Cotton will be one of a number of players returning to the Lady Tigers next season, which should make the expectations high once again.
Pitcher of the Year: Helen Snavely, Brookstone
For the second consecutive season, a sophomore takes the top pitching award.
Last season, it was Mary Catherine Smith of Columbus. This year, Snavely earned the top spot, in part, because she helped lead her team into contention at the state Elite 8, the only Bi-City area team to do so.
Snavely compiled a 14-6 record, an 1.28 ERA and 140 strikeouts in just over 125 innings.
Her offensive statistics were top notch, as well, but her biggest contribution was in the circle for the Lady Cougars.
In softball, a dominant pitcher can take a team a long way. And while Brookstone didn't go all the way, it did finish among Class A-private's top eight.
To make things more impressive, Snavely missed her freshman season due to an injury.
"Last year, I wasn't able to play and couldn't really do anything about it," she said.
"So this year, I was able to try my hardest and help the team make it as far as it could. We achieved goals last year, too, but we took the next step this year."
Coach of the Year: Nate McConnell, Brookstone
One reason the Lady Cougars took a step forward this year was the job done by McConnell in his first year as head coach. If you ask him what his impact was, though, he'll claim it was minor at best.
"Seriously, we just had a great group of girls who were able to make me look good," McConnell said.
He's partially correct, of course. His team did feature a lot of talent. But it's one thing to have potential and something else entirely to be able to draw out that potential and turn it into success. A 24-7 record and a trip to the state tournament can certainly be considered a success.
While he may downplay his impact, his players stressed how important his leadership and commitment to their success was. McConnell recognized that importance, as well.
"It's important that they know how much you care about them," he said.
"When they leave and can see your car still in the parking lot, they know how much you want them to succeed."
David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports.