06/13/04 — News-Argus Softball coach of the year Ñ Heather Humphrey, North lenoir

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News-Argus Softball coach of the year Ñ Heather Humphrey, North lenoir

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on June 13, 2004 2:02 AM

A day after the Class 2-A N.C. High School Athletic Association's Final Four, North Lenoir softball coach Heather Humphrey spoke with a sense of pride about her team's impressive run.

And why not?

After all, the Hawks had made the longest playoff journey for any girls sport in school history, winning the eastern regional championship and finishing runner-up for the state title.

The 27-4 record, with two of the losses coming at Walnut Creek to state champion Forbush, proved to be the best output for the program as well.

Sure, Humphrey and the Hawks like to win. But push the numbers and the accolades aside for a moment.

Humphrey seems just as proud of how her team achieved greatness as she does the greatness itself.

"We had a good run, and we are sad that it's over with, but I'm proud of the girls and the way they kept coming back and coming back at our opponent," Humphrey said. "They worked together. We tried to emphasize certain things on certain days. They kept coming and giving me 100 percent."

Her ability to lead the Hawks to the pinnacle of high school softball in North Carolina at Walnut Creek and indoctrinate the virtues of being good teammates makes Humphrey the choice as the 2004 News-Argus softball coach of the year. Humphrey also claimed the award in 2003 and has a jaw-dropping record of 49-7 over the last two years.

All a softball fan needs is a few innings to realize this North Lenoir team was more than just a group of talented individual players with a dominant pitcher in Hermia Humphrey. They played sound, fundamental softball with a high level of consistency, teamwork and a business-like air.

They knew when to get down to business in practice and also knew when it was O.K. to joke around and have fun with coach Humphrey, who is only 24-years old and in her third year of coaching.

"I joke around, and I can relate to them at their level, but they know where to draw the line and get serious," Humphrey said. "I wouldn't necessarily say that I am like a sister, but I am very protective of every single one of them."

Humphrey, along with athletic director Wayne Barwick and principal Dexter Simms, instituted a weight-training program just for female athletes. Humphrey believes the program helps her specialize in training needs for their particular sports -- focusing on endurance and toning more than heavy lifting.

Humphrey also coaches the volleyball team, which advanced to the eastern regional finals this season -- the deepest playoff run for that sport at the LaGrange school.

"It's more so I can develop what they need to work on in their sports instead of heavy lifting," she said. "I believe in running, and we do a lot of conditioning. I think that paid off this weekend, because I thought we were in good shape to play in that kind of weather and back-to-back games."

They'll need similar endurance to put together another run in 2005.

With three-straight Eastern Plains Conference titles under their belt, Humphrey and the Hawks know everyone will be gunning for them. North Lenoir loses only two senior starters in Hermia Humphrey and Mary Catherine Mills, and returns seven key juniors. Still, Humphrey knows talent alone will not be enough to claim their fourth straight EPC crown.

"It's going to take the off-season training. We've got to keep working on that," she said. "All the teams in our conference want to beat us, and they are going to play that much harder against North Lenoir.

"We have to keep picking up our game each year."

Never truly satisfied. Another sign of a good coach who is running a solid program.