Fastpitch Teams Of The Year
18 Gold Team North Florida Proved To Be Comeback Kids For World Title And STM's Team Of The Year
By Maria Garcia
The nomination was humbling. Sami Fagan found it flattering to even be considered a Gatorade National Player of the Year candidate. Though it should come as no surprise, really.
Team North Florida's star leadoff hitter is undeniably one of the best softball players in the country after helping her high school team, Dunnellon, capture a pair of Florida state 4A championships and leading her travel team to the prestigious ASA 18s Gold National title.
Yet, to Fagan, those team accolades are the ones that truly matter.
She is a lot like her older sister, Kasey, in that regard. They share similar infield skills, the same team-first mentality, and the honor of winning Florida's Gatorade Player of the Year Award. This spring, they are also teammates again as Sami makes her debut as a freshman at the University of Florida, where Kasey is in her second year as a third baseman.
Most important, she has grown up believing that team trophies are way cooler than individual ones.
"Our family puts more emphasis on character than accomplishment," Team North Florida coach Kevin Fagan said.
Sami Fagan has accomplished a lot on the softball field. She batted .693 as a high school senior, earned ESPN Rise All-America honors, and put together a 63-game hitting streak. As for character, she carried a 4.0 GPA throughout all four years of high school and takes great pride in getting on base so that her teammates can come up with the big hits.
That's pretty much how Team North Florida won 50 games last summer and wound up being named the 2011 Softball Today Magazine 18 Gold team of the year.
At the Colorado Independence Day Tournament, where Team North Florida placed third, and at Gold Nationals, Sami Fagan created a lot of RBI opportunities for clutch hitters like Kelsey Carpenter, Emily Carosone and Stephanie Hartness.
The best season in team history concluded with a pair of gripping victories over Newtown Rock, of Holland, Pa, which not only showcased Fagan's on-base skills but the pitching prowess of ace Carley Hoover, who posted a sub-1.00 ERA throughout nationals and averaged a strikeout per inning.
"Obviously Hoover was our workhorse and when it came to crunch time we really leaned on her, which she enjoyed," said coach Fagan, who also relied on the pitching skills of Holly McKinnon and Carleigh Fales throughout a travel season that began with championship aspirations.
Team North Florida, which was originally assembled by current Arkansas assistant Coy Adkins, has been one of the nation's premier Gold programs for several years. They followed a fifth-place finish in 2009 with a runner-up trophy last summer. And with Sami Fagan initiating the offense, they rallied out of the loser's bracket to win it all in 2011 with 5-2 and 2-1 victories over Newtown Rock.
"Having to beat Newtown Rock back-to-back was a tough chore and very rewarding," coach Fagan said. "Our obvious highlight was the challenging run on the last day of gold nationals. But I'd say we are probably the most successful team at the Gold level over the last three years."
And that is an accomplishment Sami Fagan can truly appreciate.
18U Extreme Elite Uses Hardwork and Team Chemistry to Capture USSSA World Championship and Softball Today Magazine's Team of the Year Award
By Lance McCall
It all came down to a common goal. Winning was a byproduct of that, not a means to an end.
Sure, Extreme Elite played for championships. They took the field every day with success in mind. Only trophies were just a small portion of the team's agenda.
The ultimate pursuit had more to do with the future than anything else. There were no shortcuts. The plan stressed strength and conditioning, academics and nutrition as well as the fundamentals of a perfect replay throw.
Extreme Elite coach Brett Swip valued the development of life skills because he wanted each one of his players to be prepared to make the transition from high school to college and, in the end, he succeeded in doing that.
Thirteen players from a squad that captured a USSSA ESPN Rise Fastpitch World Series championship are currently playing college softball. And that is a significant reason that Extreme Elite is the 2011 Softball Today Magazine 18-&-under Team of the Year.
"This team had purpose, drive, and was focused," Swip said. "Our season was built around preparing these athletes for their college careers. We challenged them to not only play the game hard, but to be focused in the weight room as well."
Swip had help in achieving that from assistant coaches Jen Doehring, Mark Popov, and Shannon Settles. And by summer's end, the entire team had college plans: Brittni Chapman to Morehead State, Emily Morris to Evansville, Kelsey Bailey and Brianna Butler to Missouri-St. Louis, and Lauren Smith to Tennessee-Martin. Melanie Ypya and Megan McNamee joined Kankakee Community College, Alexa Becker and Jordyn Amos signed with Murray State while Taylor Gibbs chose Webster and Katelyn Gibson picked Emory. Ali Trickey accepted an offer from Missouri State and Michelle Cristel headed off to Johnson & Wales.
"Team chemistry is good when everyone has common goals," Swip said. "We did many goal-setting sessions throughout the season to assure that we were all working together towards the same prize: College preparation."
Preparation led to tremendous success on the field, too. That's sort of been the tradition since 1999.
Extreme Elite had stars at every position, most notably pitcher, catcher, shortstop, and center field. Chapman, Bailey and Morris were unflappable in the circle while Ypya and Smith called every pitch.
The middle infield of Becker, Trickey, and Gibson excelled in communication and leadership while Butler took control of the outfield.
"We played strong up the middle," Swip said. "When you're strong up the middle, you've got a good chance to win."
Being prepared in other areas helps, too. Extreme Elite is proof of that.
"These athletes will make an immediate impact in their college program," Swip said. "Our biggest accomplishment as a group was the preparation that they put in during the summer to be ready for their college coaches in the fall."
16U The Next Level Utilized Chemistry and Team Concept to Earn National Title and STM's Team of the Year
By Dave Utnik
They have another entire summer together. That's the exciting part.
And there is no telling what the girls from The Next Level softball squad might accomplish.
"This group of players has a great chemistry on the field. They support and encourage one another through every game," coach Jerry Delamater said as the reigning ASA 16U national champions prepare to make the jump to 18U this spring. "They are friends on and off the field. Every one of them contributes to the team's success."
It will be a daunting task to duplicate last summer's success. But Notre Dame signee, Rachel Nasland, and her teammates are going to give it everything they have.
With five star players already assured of college scholarships, The Next Level won the Southern California State Championship, placed ninth in the 18U division at the prestigious Independence Day Tournament in Boulder, Colorado and went on to become the 2011 Softball Today Magazine 16U team of the year following a national title run in Chattanooga.
"It doesn’t get much better than that," said Delamater, whose team out-played a 172-team field at nationals. "It proves that the teams in our program can compete with the best of the best out there."
There is really no question when it comes to potential and ability. The Next Level has it all, especially with Nasland in the circle. The Torrey Pines High School senior threw a 12-strikeout, no-hitter against the Renegades early on at nationals and shutout the Georgia Impact, 3-0, in the finals.
"Qualifying for nationals is something that every travel softball team strives for. Some qualify and others may never get the opportunity," coach Delamater said. "Our organization has been very successful in sending numerous teams in each division to nationals every year."
There is a lot to look forward to in the 18U division with a lineup that features top-of-the-order hitters Monica Downey (San Diego State) and Samantha Camello (Texas Tech) as well as power-hitting pitcher Noelle Johnson (Utah State) and catcher Molly Hutchison (N.C. State.)
This will be their third travel season together.
"It's very strong and balanced lineup," Delamater said.
Depth is one of The Next Level's greatest assets, given that Celinna Cosio, Hana Gilbert, Lani Vanta, and Madison Lerma are also very accomplished athletes.
So another national championship is not out of the realm of possibility.
"There is a lot of movement in travel softball but not much to speak of on this team for next year. Our goal is to win 18 Gold Nationals next year," Delamater said. "We will continue to get stronger as all of our players returned this fall. We should be contenders next summer as well."
12U Sudden Impact Wins World Title and adds STM Team of the Year to Their Resume
By Maria Garcia
Rec. league ball wasn't challenging enough. The team that Mark Mattingly and Richard Vargas put together was built to win at a much higher level.
It took only a couple of months together to realize that.
The travel circuit is where the Chino Hills Hurricanes needed to be. And it's where Ryan Jackson and Alexis Vargas were meant to be -- a perfect setting for two of the nation's most promising young fastpitch players.
So after winning every game they played in a local fall and winter league, the Hurricanes changed their name to Sudden Impact and set out to conquer the fastpitch world.
Sudden Impact made its debut with three consecutive second-place finishes. The first-year team was an instant hit and reaching the finals turned out to be a precursor of even better things to come.
In June, they captured their first championship by winning the Triple Crown Stars and Stripes tournament. A few weeks later, they solidified their place as the 2011 Softball Today Magazine 12U Softball Team of the Year with a USSSA Girls Fastpitch World Series championship.
"The USSSA World Series was our most gratifying accomplishment," coach Vargas said. "But there were a lot of milestones the team reached along the way."
Led by Jackson, the World Series MVP, and Vargas, the tournament's outstanding pitcher and defensive MVP, Sudden Impact reached the finals in five of the seven tournaments they participated in -- a splendid summer tour that reached its zenith with an 8-0 run through an 18-team World Series field.
"Ryan is a naturally gifted athlete," coach Vargas said. "She had an unbelievable World Series at the plate and in the field with timely hits to score runs and some run saving catches."
The lineup featured some prominent hitters in addition to Jackson. Most notably, Summer Anderson, Jaclyn Mattingly and Emily Ballesteros, who comprised the top -- and heart -- of the order.
Each game provided an opportunity for one of Sudden Impact's players to shine. Often it was Jackson or Vargas, but along the way the Hurricanes established a national identity thanks to some important contributions from other key players: Amanda Acevedo, Kennedy Anderson, Vanessa Barron, Savannah Caggiano, Hunter Elias, Alissa Noble and Jessika Trujilloer.
"Every member did their part to help the team succeed," coach Vargas said.
14U OC Batbusters Cap Dream Season With Premier Fastpitch Championship and STM Team of the Year Honors
By Dave Utnik
Sarah Costlow carried her father's memory with her every time she stepped into the pitcher's circle. It gave her strength and focus.
There's no other way she would have made it through the entire 14U Premier Girls' Fastpitch National Championship tournament without the support of her teammates, her mother, Dianne, and the desire to win a trophy in honor of her dad, Mike, who lost a battle with colon cancer while the OC Batbusters were in Irvine, CA for their biggest competition of the travel season.
"It touched all of us how she was able to continue playing after such a tragic situation," Batbusters coach Gene Clark said. "The whole team become closer and rallied behind her."
The OC Batbusters won 103 games during the travel season and some prestigious competitions, including the Triple Crown Memorial Day Classic and the Colorado Classic. But nothing rivaled nationals, where they claimed six consecutive games to ensure that Sarah captured a championship for her father.
"We had many obstacles as a team but withstood everything thrown at us," coach Clark said. "We were able to come together when it counted."
Costlow helped inspire that by winning two games at nationals, while Taylor Rowland, the team's leading power hitter, tripled with the bases loaded to clinch a 3-0 championship game victory over the rival Corona Angels.
"We got better and better all season and peaked at the right time," coach Clark said. "Our vision from the beginning was to get these girls to the next level as we knew we had talent. It was just getting them to believe in each other that was the most gratifying."
Costlow (25-4. 1.45 ERA) and Hayley Copeland (22-4, 1.32 ERA) combined for 46 victories in the circle, while Kennedy Clark batted .503 and Annie Toczynski .473. But it was their ability to rise above adversity and support each other that made the OC Batbusters the 2011 Softball Today Magazine 14U team of the Year.
Contributions came from all over the field. Copeland set a record with 14 strikeouts in the finals, while Sierra Bjostad caught every inning of the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship competition and tagged out a runner at home on a squeeze play to keep the team's unbeaten record intact.
Middle infielders Sara Ketelslegger and Taryn Atlee were also exceptional defenders along with third baseman Faith Canfield. Designated hitter Nikki Butler also came through with some huge hits.
"Many of the girls sacrificed a lot as they had to play other positions or bat somewhere in the lineup they were not accustomed too," coach Clark said. "They bought into doing what is best for the team and were not worried about the individual stuff. We truly had a unselfish team that played together and supported each other to the fullest."
10U Team Watley Wins STM Team of the Year with Pitching and Team Chemistry
By Maria Garcia
Megan Faraimo will always have that one perfect moment to cherish.
The precocious right-hander with the mid-50s fastball appears destined for great things in the pitcher's circle. She's barely 11-years-old and already a national champion.
Yet everything she accomplishes during the remainder of her career will undoubtedly be linked to that amazing performance during the finals of the ASA 10U National Championships in Johnson City, Tenn., where Faraimo retired every batter she faced in a 7-0 victory over the Corona Angels.
Blessed with an exceptional ability to throw and control a softball, Faraimo was the centerpiece of a truly gifted Team Watley squad which won 95 games, including seven straight in Johnson City -- by a whopping 59-1 margin.
"I was really excited to see it happen for our girls. They worked extremely hard all year and to see them get rewarded in such a dominating fashion at nationals was really special," said Team Watley coach Robert Young.
A squad sponsored by Olympic champion Natasha Watley would expect to have lofty aspirations and that was certainly true for the 2011 Softball Today Magazine 10U Team of the Year.
Young expects to contend for a national title every season and his teams have won at four different levels -- 10U, 12U, 14U and 16U.
His most recent group of champions grew up together playing in a Santa Ana Rec. league before taking their game global.
"Without a great catcher no team wins a championship," coach Young said. "We are blessed to have Caitlyn Pierce behind the plate."
Team Watley can be thankful for the arrival of Anna Vines as well. Few players at the 10U level can outrun her around the bases. And there are future stars stationed elsewhere around the diamond, most notably in center field (Lani Moreno), third base (Jayda Su'e) and second base (Madison Gurgian.)
Still, it was a combined effort. Faraimo may be perfect, but she had some outstanding help along the way from Amani Bradley, Dani Ellis, Vanessa Gonzalez, Madison Gurgian, Raeleen Gutierrez and Kelli Kufta.
"The most gratifying thing about our season was taking 12 young players from Rec. ball, teaching them to play softball at a travel ball level to compete at a national level," coach Young said. "And knowing that our players created a special bond that can never be broken."
8U Texas Glory Earns Two National Titles and One STM Team of the Year Award
By Dave Utnik
If there is such a thing as grade-school swagger, then the 8U Texas Glory softball team has it.
The girls from Mesquite are a confident bunch -- and deservedly so. They are, after all, two-time World Series champions.
Not even Justin Bieber can say that.
So the Glory girls have something to boast about following an incredible summer tour when they captured VTD World Series and USSSA World Series titles to become the 2011 Softball Today Magazine 8U Team of the Year.
"Winning a national championship was a great experience for the entire team and the Texas Glory organization. Our young team got to go home and share their experience with older siblings and friends from outside the softball world, where anybody can appreciate winning a national championship," Glory coach Jimmy Middlebrook said.
Texas Glory went 60-14 and won five of the eight tournaments it played in during the travel season. Then the girls all moved up to the 10U age group together to pursue another national championship in 2012.
"From timely hitting to making solid defensive plays -- when one player would get a hit or make a defensive play -- all the others players would follow. That flow just seemed to continue all the way through the national championship."
That was especially true against a top-flight field in Moore, Okla., where Texas Glory won five consecutive games on the final day to clinch the USSSA trophy.
"Our girls showed great team unity and endurance as they battled through the 105 degree-plus temperatures on Sunday to win the championship," coach Middlebrook said.
Texas Glory reached the finals of three other tournaments and placed third in another -- a testament to confidence, dedication and athletic ability.
"Every player contributed to the success of the team," coach Middlebrook said.
Some did it with their gloves and arms -- Jaden Middlebrook, Audrey Fenn, Erin Castillo, Kylie Lathers and Mady Meadows -- while others provided big hits at the plate -- Abbie Orrick, Jessie Camacho, Kennedy Crites and Annabelle Schraub.
"We have an outstanding group of parents who support the team," coach Middlebrook said. "They believe in our program of constantly working to improve the girls not only on the field but off the field to become great citizens of the community."