All-area softball: Wayne Christian's Longwell had one goal for his team all season
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 24, 2007 2:01 AM
Roger Longwell grabbed a notepad and headed toward his desk.
The Wayne Christian softball coach sat down, closed his eyes, assorted the thoughts rambling through his head and began to write down team goals.
Goal #1 -- win a state championship.
Longwell put down his pencil.
No other goals?
Wayne Christian appeared in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Class 1-A final four in 2006. A confident Longwell felt another trip, and a state title, was possible for this year's team.
The Eagles proved his theory with a 12-0 start. But Longwell nearly second-guessed himself when the team's smooth ride turned into a bumpy journey over a two-week period.
Three losses in a four-game stretch nearly deflated the team.
"We were going through some tough times and people were not feeling too confident about themselves," said Longwell. "I told them they could turn in their uniforms if they weren't going to play 100 percent each time they stepped onto the field.
"I challenged them to play with their heart."
Wayne Christian endured one more loss, a 6-0 shutout against defending state champion Cape Fear Christian in the Carolina Christian Conference tournament final. The Eagles didn't experience another defeat.
Longwell's team reeled off four consecutive victories, including two against Cape Fear, and emerged the 2007 NCISAA 1-A champions. It was the program's fourth state title after winning three Mid-Atlantic Christian Athletic Association slow-pitch crowns in the late 1990s.
"I think how those kids responded coming off those losses and how they grew individually during the year on and off the field really pleased me the most," said Longwell, the 2007 News-Argus All-Area Softball Coach of the Year. "I can say something good about each one of them and what they meant to our success."
The groundwork for this spring started in 2004 when Longwell's first team mustered just three wins. He diligently worked in the offseason and the following spring put a 9-6, state-playoff qualifying team on the diamond.
Traci Davis' arrival pushed Wayne Christian among the state's elite programs in 2006. The Eagles advanced to the final four, but ended up a disappointing 0-2.
Longwell sensed that lackluster showing would motivate the team this spring. Another transfer, Cynthia Burroughs, added strength to the pitching staff and gave Davis some relief.
The duo, along with Brittany Sullivan, compiled a 12-0 ledger until the jolting five-inning loss against perennial 2-A power Fayetteville Academy. Additional losses to public school members Rosewood and Princeton drew Longwell's concern.
"Our practices became more aggressive and every player on the team concentrated on improving their weaknesses," said Longwell. "We became more aggressive at the plate, put the ball in play and made things happen."
But could Wayne Christian overcome Cape Fear? Burroughs provided the answer with a sterling 1-0 shutout. Davis followed that up with a 5-2 victory over Cape Fear in the championship tilt.
"In the huddle before the final game, I told them my expectations of them, by far, had already been met," said Longwell. "I said the state title was theirs for the taking, and all they had to do was go out and do it.
"I told them, win or lose, I'm proud of them because they've done a great job this year."
Goal #1 accomplished.
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