The Central Carroll High School softball team was knocking on the door for three years in a row.
In coach Dave McKenna’s first three years at Central Carroll from 2013-2015, the Carrollton, Georgia school finished second, third, and fourth in the state, respectively.
So when Central Carroll finally captured the program’s first state championship in 2016 the sense of fulfillment was through the roof.
“There’s really no words that can explain it. That’s what you work towards all year and in the offseason with the workout programs you make for the girls. It’s just the ultimate goal,” McKenna said. “Being so close to it for three years and then finally doing it is like the monkey is off your back. I’m more happy for the girls than myself, to see all the work and dedication they put into it and having it finally pay off.”
McKenna gave plenty of credit to his regional opponents (Chapel Hill, Cartersville, Cedartown) for challenging Central Carroll to bring out their A-game at states.
“Our region was probably one of the best regions in the state in 4A. We had five Division I pitchers in our region,” McKenna said. “Our region is tough, but that caliber of softball gets you ready. You aren’t going to see anything better.”
McKenna’s journey to winning a state title began with his first foray into coaching.
“My high school baseball coach that I looked up to said there’s no better satisfaction than coaching high school sports. He said I ought to look into it because of my background. So throughout college I took PE classes and got my teaching degree in health and PE. I knew it was what I always wanted to do.”
McKenna’s coaching philosophy is mixing a blend of fun with high expectations.
“I’m pretty strict, but I like to have fun too. There’s a happy median. They know when it’s go time and when it’s time to get to work. They come to work because that’s my big thing: work ethic. What you put in is what you’re going to get out of it. How you practice is how you’re going to play. That’s what I tell them. We like to be up tempo and always have strong defense. We put a lot of emphasis on defense. If you can’t make the plays then you’re in trouble.”
To win a state championship, that work ethic was vital. Setting those expectations early made for good habits when it was time to make a postseason push.
“You have to have everybody committed from your managers to your assistant coaches to the players all the way down to your middle school team. You have to have a good feeder system to be successful because you’re going to lose some good players so you need players from your middle school ready to step up.
“We have real high expectations. Our program has proven itself to being one of the better in the state. The girls know what it takes. From the top to the bottom you have to be committed.”