Daily Citizen-News All-Area Softball Player of the Year

VARNELL — Coahulla Creek High School’s Sophia Voyles had a great senior softball season hitting the ball.

She blasted seven home runs, put up 26 RBIs and batted .396.

Despite that, Voyles thinks she’d struggle at the plate if she faced off against one particular pitcher: herself.

When asked how she would fare, Voyles pauses for a moment. Then, she decides.

“Definitely not,” Voyles shrugs.

Hitting, despite her success on the offensive side of the ball, is not the skill Voyles is known for — nor is it the one she’ll use in college.

Voyles has signed to play softball at Georgia Tech, where she’ll strictly be a pitcher unless plans change. She committed after her freshman year to Georgia Tech because of that pitching skill. Three years, and a whole lot of strikeouts, later, Voyles has finished up a dominant senior season — in both facets of the game.

On the mound, in addition to those batting numbers, she tallied six no-hitters, piled up a school-record 303 strikeouts, had an ERA of just 1.21 and earned her Colts 21 wins.

For her performance, Voyles has been named the 2020 Daily Citizen-News All Area Softball Player of the Year.

“When did you become a power hitter?”

The batting numbers Voyles put up in 2020 surprised even herself.

The pitching skill that had gotten her an offer from Georgia Tech so early had always been on full display. Playing in her travel ball circuits, she normally pitches exclusively.

She batted during the high school season at Coahulla Creek, but hadn’t made the impact that she did this season until a lineup change.

“We put her at the leadoff spot early on to get her extra at bats,” said Josh Swiney, Coahulla Creek’s head softball coach. “She ended up staying there all year, leading us in home runs, doubles and on base percentage.”

She stayed at the plate, but the ball didn’t. It could usually be found zipping into play or over the fence.

“That was not expected at all, by like anyone,” Voyles said of those home runs. “I can’t remember who said it, but after one of my home runs, one of the girls just looked at me and said ‘When did you become a power hitter?'”

Those seven home runs were usually accompanied by a familiar sound.

“My mom videoed them, you could just hear her screaming in the background the same way on all of them,” Voyles said. “I guess we won’t hear anymore of those, unfortunately.”

“Any pitch, in any count”

What Voyles did expect out of 2020 was another good year on the mound.

“I expected that a little more than the hitting, because I’ve put so much work in,” Voyles said.

“She never missed a workout or practice while she was here and it’s great to see the rewards of that,” Swiney said.

Those rewards were a leap above even what was an award-winning junior season.

Her 303 strikeouts broke the previous school single-season mark of 185, set last season by Voyles. She was already the leader in total strikeouts, but nearly doubled the previous record to 696 in one season.

“We have definitely seen her develop as a pitcher, especially with her curve and change,” Swiney said. “She is able to throw any pitch, in any count. With her velocity, that combination makes her a very effective pitcher.”

Swiney credits Coahulla Creek’s pitching coach, Morgan Herbort, with helping maximize Sophia’s effectiveness by calling pitches.

“They were always on the same page setting up and attacking hitters,” Swiney said. “That relationship between them was key to our success this season. In terms of strategy, we knew going into each game that Sophia was going to give us a chance to win.

Making her mark

Although Voyles may not ever play a game on Coahulla Creek’s softball field again, a reminder of her stellar career on that field will be there.

Voyles' No. 21 jersey will be retired, and the program will hold a retirement ceremony and raise a banner at the field during a game next fall. She’ll be the first softball player at Coahulla Creek to have her number retired.

Swiney told Voyles and the team at a banquet after the Lady Colts’ season ended.

“I’m so happy about that,” Voyles said. “It was a shock, and I’m pretty sure everyone was crying.”

“Sophia not only put up huge numbers during her time here, but she also was a great teammate and that will always stand out to me,” Swiney said. “She has certainly been an outstanding role model to the younger players in our program. She’s such a selfless, team-first type player and very deserving of the recognition.”

Voyles led Coahulla Creek to a season worth remembering amongst a career of success.

The Lady Colts finished with a 24-7 record and the program’s first region championship in 2020.

“It was probably the best year that Coahulla Creek has had, and I don’t think that’s negative to the other teams we’ve had," Voyles said. "We set an example with the region championship that had never been done before here.”

Time for Tech

Voyles still has one more season of travel softball to go before she officially dons a blue and gold Georgia Tech uniform this fall, but the end of her high school career has her feeling bittersweet.

“It’s definitely a little sad. I think the thing that makes me the most sad is just not being able to play with Swiney and all my friends again,” Voyles said. “We’ve made so many happy memories though.”

Still, after knowing her collegiate destination for so long, when it finally comes time, Voyles said she’s ready to get started — despite some nerves.

“I still am a little nervous, because I’m just from little Dalton moving to downtown Atlanta,” Voyles said. “I also still have a whole lot of work to do, that’s for sure.”

Swiney’s seen that work ethic up close before. If there’s work to do, he said, Voyles will get it done.

“Sophia is well aware that signing with Georgia Tech is a blessing, but she is going to have to continue to put in the work to earn that weekend starter spot in the ACC,” Swiney said. “And I know she will.”

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