For two seasons, Jessica Dickens sat in the background as an assistant coach for Randy Haynes' Starkville Academy softball program.
Today at Hebron Christian, Dickens officially takes the reins as the leader of the Volunteers in their 2010 season opener.
It won't be Dickens' first experience as the Vols' head coach, having gotten her feet wet with the position in summer league action at the Starkville Sportsplex.
Still, Dickens says she'll have a few nerves now that the games will start counting.
"If I wasn't a little nervous, I would think something was wrong," said Dickens. "Anxious is more of the word though I believe. I'm anxious to see our progression. We've got 12 or 13 games under our belt in the summer league, we've been conditioning and practicing hard for going on three weeks, and the girls have improved so much."
Dickens' belief in her team is well-founded. SA notched a 23-8 overall record in 2009, their final year under Haynes. Along with experiencing a little success, Dickens got the chance to familiarize herself with her current players, as well as learn from another season under Haynes.
"(Haynes) did such a great gob," said Dickens. "I got to see a great coach in action before becoming head coach myself."
Despite all the knowledge she gained, Dickens admits she's still had plenty to learn.
"My biggest adjustment has been managing the time and trying to get everything in that I want to get in," said Dickens. "If I had my way, we'd be at practice all day working on different things. But it's hard to pinpoint what you need to work on, and be able to set that up in a competitive practice situation to make things fun and challenging. It's just been a challenge getting that all together in a certain amount of time."
Dickens first opportunity to judge how efficient she's been at time management comes today in Pheba. Dickens is familiar with Hebron, having played them at the Sportsplex over the summer, and is confident that she has the tools on her roster to be successful tonight and beyond.
Bailey Wofford, formerly a catcher, will primarily be used a shortstop this season with occasional appearances behind the plate.
"(Wofford) will probably be the clutch player of our team," said Dickens. "She is a great catcher already and will be a great shortstop."
Taking the lead on the mound for Dickens' team this year looks to be Julianne Jackson, who transfered to SA from Starkville Christian.
"She has worked really hard," said Dickens of Jackson. "She's developed a few pitches and I'm feeling confident about our pitching."
Dickens also says Mary Austin Barber will see time on the mound, as well as around the Vols' infield.
Other keys to SA this season will include veteran first baseman Megan Aucoin, and slick-fielding seventh grader Adrian Futral, who will play second.
Dickens is quick to praise her entire squad for their work getting ready for the new year and insists that everyone on the team will be needed for the Vols to get where they want to be in 2010.
"I'm anxious to see how much better we are now that things really matter," said Dickens. "I feel confident the girls will respond to the challenge."