The 2018 season didn't necessarily provide the senior year Cartersville softball player Presly Edwards would have wanted, but perhaps it gave her the final high school campaign she needed.
Through all the struggles the Canes went through this past season, Edwards emerged as a vocal leader. After years of being a self-described shy individual, Edwards stepped up as one of only two seniors on the team, coming "out of her shell," according to head coach Shannon Suarez.
Next spring, Edwards will have the chance to showcase her leadership qualities and continue her softball career for Division III Wesleyan College. She signed with the Macon-based school on Dec. 13 inside the Cartersville High School media center.
"I've always kind of been interested in the college," Edwards said of Wesleyan. "The first time I went to visit, I really liked the campus and just the atmosphere. I kind of knew it was where I wanted to go. I was kind of waiting for the offer, and when I got it, I took it immediately."
There were some bumps in the road along the way, but it seems to have made Edwards (and likely a good chunk of her teammates) better for having gone through it.
"It was really hard at some points, when we would get beat really bad and everybody would be mad and down," Edwards said. "We were a young team, and we knew we were going to have to work hard. ... I think it was just that bond the team had. We had a really good bond this year. I think that's what helped, just playing for everyone else and not yourself."
Cartersville came up short in its quest to return to the state tournament for the first time since Edwards' sophomore season, when the team fell to eventual Class 4A runner-up Northside-Columbus in the second round.
However, Edwards put together a great year at the plate, earning all-Region 5-AAAA honorable mention and a spot on the DTN's all-county team. The right-handed hitter slashed .333/.391/.508 with just five strikeouts. She hit five doubles, smacked two home runs and drove in 10 runs.
"The best thing about Presly this year — and what we've seen from her in other years — is her consistency," Suarez said. "She stayed .300, .350 [batting average] all year. She stayed around the 4, 5 or 6 spot all year. ... She became someone we relied on daily to hit some runs in for us and supply a lot of offense.
"I was most proud of her stepping up and being a leader offensively. When she was called upon defensively, she came up huge in some games for us behind the plate, too."
While Suarez noted Edwards did have a sporadic impact defensively, her production at the plate was constant. Essentially being limited to hitting a few times a game to make a difference can be a daunting task. It certainly isn't for everybody.
"Everyone knows we kind of struggled this year defensively," Edwards said. "So we knew from the beginning of the season that we were going to have to rely on our bats. I just really wanted to be a big part of that and help my team as much as I could."
Edwards embraced and excelled in her role. She had no problem putting a bad plate appearance behind her or carrying the momentum with her when she'd been in the dugout for upwards of an hour between at bats.
"It takes a really strong-minded player to be in the DH role," Suarez said. "Only getting up three times a game, on average, to swing the bat, she prepared for that. She'll continue to prepare for that, because that will be her primary role in college also.
"She's someone who has worked so hard on her mental approach to the game. ... A lot of that comes from her preparation and the work that she puts in in the offseason. It's really paid off, and it showed in her stats this year and her performance."
Edwards said she's excited to play for Wesleyan's new head coach Penny Siqueiros, who is also the school's new athletics director. But even more than that, Edwards said she's relieved to be finished with the recruiting process.
"It was definitely relief," Edwards said of her signing day feelings. "In softball, it's really hard to get out into the recruiting world. It's a lot harder than you think. Just to sign and get it over with is a relief. It's exciting to know you're committed somewhere."
With that all behind her, Edwards can focus on finishing out of her senior year and preparing for the start of college, where she wants to study psychology.
"I'm really excited to see what Wesleyan brings," Edwards said. "It was kind of like my dream school. ... I think I'll fit in really well there. I've already met some of the team members, but I'm excited to build a relationship with them and build a family."
The family she'll be leaving behind in the Canes dugout will certainly miss her presence. But Suarez believes Edwards will be able to carry her legacy on to the next level, and hopefully, make a positive impression on her future teammates, as well.
"She's an asset, and she's someone you build your team around," Suarez said of Edwards. "She's well respected by the girls, the coaches. She's someone who comes every day with the team in mind — it's never about her. Always willing to make a sacrifice and do what's best for the team. As coaches, those are the type of players we want.
"The best thing about her is that she reflects that on others. She's one of the most selfless girls I've ever met. We're just proud that she's going to have that opportunity to continue on and make her team and others better, as well as herself."