Coming off their best softball season in program history, the Excel Christian Lady Eagles don't seem ready to simply accept that last season's run to the Elite 8 is as good as it gets.
The Lady Eagles are seeking a return to the Georgia High School Association's Class A quarterfinals and trying to forget their 2009 feats.
"You can't get too bigheaded," said Excel third baseman Abby Hibbard, a four-year starter. "You got to focus on the year in front of you. You can't dwell on the one behind you."
The Lady Eagles' other four-year starter, Sydney Howell, does not know the ceiling for this year's team, but she knows where they would like to end up.
"I don't know the potential of this team, but I do know the goal is to get back to Columbus," said Howell, a second baseman, in reference to the site of the quarterfinals for each of the GHSA's five classifications.
Coach Danny Deems would like the team to continue the things that served it so well last season.
"We are coming off a great season, and we want to continue with the team (being) built around defense and pitching," Deems said.
Excel returns starting pitcher Janna Scheff, a true game-changer who helped the Lady Eagles' fortunes after transferring from Cartersville.
Scheff is one of the Excel players -- Hibbard and Howell are the others -- to play on the Bartow Big League all-star team that won state and played in the Southeast region tournament in Florida.
"We've been fortunate to have players that have participated in the Cartersville and Bartow recreation leagues and also quite a few girls have played travel ball," Deems said. "They bring their level of competitiveness to the high school team."
After finishing third in Region 6-A behind Gordon Lee and Trion, the Lady Eagles knocked off No. 2-seed Wesleyan (2-1, 4-3) and No. 1-seed Prince Avenue Christian (3-1, 0-3, 11-4) to reach the Elite 8, where they sandwiched a win over Schley County (11-3) between losses to Bacon County (2-1) and Savannah Christian (3-0).
Last year may have been a surprise to some, but Deems said Excel (24-8, 9-4), which was in its fourth season of varsity play, had been inching toward that.
"It was a great season, but we ... had been building (up to that) with those players," he said of former players Taylor Brown, Danielle Jackson, Ashley Garland and Katie Cauthen. "Last year's seniors had been (at Excel) all four years of their career.
"They had been preparing and playing together for quite some time."
Hibbard said working harder during the offseason helped the Lady Eagles achieve a certain level of success.
Bringing in players like Scheff has helped, too, Howell added.
While junior outfielders Amanda Haney and Stephanie Rosser round out the team's returning starters, Excel newcomers include catcher Kaye Sullins and her twin sister, Kelly, who are Cartersville transfers.
"We're looking for them to contribute, not only with their skills but also as leaders," Deems said of the Sullins sisters, who are seniors.
Another transfer is infielder Emily Willingham, who comes over from Woodland for her sophomore year.
Three freshmen join the fold, Deems said.
They are Eden Fulmer, Connor Terry and Mary Beth Burkhalter, who joins her sister, Nikki, a sophomore on the team.
Erin Brown completes the roster for the Lady Eagles. Though not a returning starter, Brown figures to factor in more during her junior season.
"She'll contribute," Deems said.
All the Lady Eagles will hope to contribute this season as Excel opens today with a 5 p.m. home game against Mount Paran.