VALDOSTA -- Several of his top players have been missing in action, but Lowndes High softball coach Nick Petro is not worried.

In fact, he might not have had room for many more warm bodies this week. Over 50 girls turned out to try and make the Lady Vikings squad, and few of them are willing to throw in the towel, according to the first-year coach.

"The biggest surprise has been that the girls are staying with the program, and they're not quitting," he said.

Some mainstays off of last year's Region 1-AAAAA champions have been out of town playing in tournaments with summer traveling teams. Petro admits that it is less than an ideal setup when trying to establish a new system.

"It makes it harder to put in things," he said. "It's kind of an inconvenience but there's nothing you can do. But when those folks get back, they're going to have to pick up where we left off."

Still, Petro considered the first week of practice productive.

"We went through mostly conditioning stuff, but now we're putting in our drills. We'll get started with our hitting stations this week," he said. "We need to figure out who can play where. We're looking good in spots."

Lowndes' 2001 season begins August 14.

Lowndes has won the region each of the past two seasons. The Lady Vikings have been clearly the best team in their athletic region every year they have competed as a fast-pitch team. For the first time, all eight 1-AAAAA schools will be playing fast-pitch, but until somebody beats the Lady Vikings, Lowndes will be considered the team to beat.

LHS will also try to earn their third-straight trip to the state tournament.

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