by Sergio Santistevan
There is truly no offseason in softball, and as Triple Crown summer fastpitch individual events prove, recruiting is a 24/7 job.
“Triple Crown, in my experience, I know (has) extremely good tournaments to go to,” said team manager Michele Waters of the Arctic Heat 18u, who credits these events for helping many of her players get recruited.
The first recruiting event of the year, Zoom into June, will take place on June 4-8 in West Covina, Riverside and Hemet, CA. Entering its 10th year, Zoom into June is the largest recruiting showcase on the West Coast and is widely viewed as the best early recruiting showcase on the calendar.
Zoom into June offers five days of jam-packed action for players to get noticed by various college coaches. The event provides a plethora of showcase games, such as Organizational Workouts, Uncommitted 2020 and 2021 Workout, OnDeck Camp, All-Star and All-Academic games.
On top of all the individual showcase action, teams get the opportunity to compete in a five-game guarantee format, so college programs get to see players in real-game situations.
In 2019, more than 200 college coaches attended Zoom Into June and recruited plenty of talent as over 400 teams competed in the games and over 450 individuals attended extra showcase and camp opportunities.
If Zoom into June doesn’t fit into the calendar, workouts at the Valley Invite on June 19 in Portland marks another opportunity for players to get noticed by college programs.
In previous years, college representatives from major DI colleges were in attendance along with JUCO and NAIA representatives. Last year, over 200 teams registered in the five-game guarantee tournament; this year, the Valley Invite format will be different than in previous years, but coaches and players can still expect a high-level tournament, individual events and college coaches with recruiting on their mind.
One of Triple Crown signature fastpitch events lights up Colorado through June 28- July 5. Teams throughout the United States will participate in the annual Colorado 4th of July Sparkler & Fireworks. The tournament consists of a six-game guarantee and modified elimination formats.
“The Colorado Sparkler & Fireworks have been around for a very long time. They are extremely organized and extremely beneficial. If anybody can get their teams to those tournaments, we would recommend it,” said Waters. “That’s where the girls get the scholarships from. Ninety percent of our girls get our scholarships from those tournaments.”
This year the 2020 Power Pool playoff system will be enhanced, as the top teams in the U.S. Club Rankings and certain at-large teams will be invited to participate.
All the action kicks off on June 28 with College Camp Sunday, which provides high-tempo workouts and drills from college coaches at the Aurora Sports Park.
On Elite College Camp Monday, nationally recognized college coaching staffs will host workouts for a small group of 40 participants to help refine skills and develop a deeper understanding of the game. Programs that have been confirmed for their camp so far include the University of Oregon, Notre Dame and Texas A&M.
On Tuesday, June 30, uncommitted junior and seniors will run through specific skill stations administered by TCS staff. This event is open to any unsigned graduates in the 2020 or 2021 class and JUCO players. Over the years, this event has hosted over 100 college coaches and had over 50 participants, so it presents a great chance for players to be recruited.
Hundreds of college colleges are attending Colorado 4th of July Sparkler & Fireworks event this year, ranging from DI’s University of New Mexico and the University of Hawaii to NAIA’s Bethel University.
Don’t miss out on getting noticed by college coaches at any of these TCS fastpitch opportunities this summer!
You’d imagine that the average college softball coach would be pretty much ready to go into hiding in late spring, given the fact they’ve just finished their own long season of travel and competition.
But then again, it’s not a good idea to miss Zoom Into June.
"Zoom into June is the first recruiting event of the year and it’s the largest showcase on the west coast," said Zoom Into June tournament director Halie Martinez.
"We offer a variety of individual recruiting opportunities outside of the 5 team showcase games like All Star Games, All Academic Games, Organizational Workouts, TC Evaluation Camp, Unsigned Junior/Senior Workouts, College Camps and an OnDeck Camp. Zoom Into June is 5 days packed full of recruiting opportunities and is the place to be to compete. We have teams attending this showcase from all across the United States (GA, TX, AZ, CO, FL, OR, WA, UT, NV, AR, Canada, SoCal and NorCal)."
This marks the ninth year of the Triple Crown Zoom Into June tournament (June 6-9), which is widely seen and valued as the best early season recruiting showcase on the calendar. The breadth of college programs coming to look at the talent ranges from Vernon College (a JUCO in Texas) to D-I schools like DePaul and Arkansas, and that’s the logical response to the sight of nearly 400 teams making the trip to Southern California.
A variety of showcase opportunities await players when they arrive:
College Camp Monday
• A one-of-a-kind instructional moment for players, as athletes take part in high-energy drills directed by college coaches.
• A strong group of college coaches are on hand to run drills and work closely with your athlete.
• Players can refine skills and develop a deeper understanding of the game, while having the opportunity to work with coaches from a particular school or group of schools.
Elite College Coaches Camp
• Get instruction from top college coaches in the country and run through drills to show your skills at this elite camp.
• Featuring elite staffs and some of the best teachers in the game, this intimate camp is designed as instructional for players to refine skills and develop a deeper understanding of the game.
• All-day camp to improve skills! Get the best “bang for your buck” with all day instruction and fun interaction with these elite college coaches.
Uncommitted 2019/2020 Workout
• 3-hour showcase workout for uncommitted 2019/2020 graduates; several dozen coaches in attendance.
• Best opportunity for unsigned players to be recruited.
On June 6, the new TC Eval recruiting assessment takes place at Diamond Valley Park, and June 7 offers the OnDeck Jamboree, piloted as always by the Allister family.
Also in the mix is Zoom Juniors, for 12u players, which will be held June 8-9 in San Diego. The winner of that bracket gets a paid berth into the Triple Crown 12u World Series in July.
The primary focus of Triple Crown’s Zoom Into June event is to get maximum exposure and attention from the large number of college coaches looking for prospective talent, but there are some avenues to travel if you want to have some fun away from the ballpark.
Diamond Valley Lake – The recent bounty of rain and snow has led to an impressive wildflower bloom, and remnants of that will be visible along the many trails around this key California reservoir. It’s also a great time to rent a boat and do a little fishing.
March Field Air Museum – Decades of thoughtful acquisitions and careful expansion have led to this gem of a museum, where you can stroll along the ground and get up-close looks at interesting and vintage aircraft. There’s extra attention to detail that will also entertain small children.
Cabazon Dinosaur Museum – Widely loved and appreciated as the epitome of a roadside attraction. The museum is set on four stories and not only attracts a large number of tourists but also the LA media who have been known to use the dinosaur models in commercials and other broadcasts.
UCR Botanic Gardens – With 40 acres of space and four miles of trails, the gardens feature more than 3,500 plant species and thousands of specimens from around the world, with a focus on plants from Mediterranean climate (dry summer) and arid lands similar to California and the desert Southwest.
Los Serranos Golf Club – Featuring a North and South Course, both public, with the South Course generally known as the more challenging location, with more elevation changes. North Course is tight.
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Triple Crown Sports has entered into a multi-year agreement with BallerTV that will add livestream video coverage to more than 20 Triple Crown Fastpitch events, beginning in 2019.
BallerTV will have coverage of all fields and all games of the following 2019 events:
Bomber Shootout March 2-3
Spring Stampede May 11-12
Triple Crown OKC May 31-June 3
Zoom Into June June 6-9
Mountain Magic June 6-9
Texas State Championships June 7-9
Zoom Juniors June 8-9
Colorado State Championships June 14-16
Valley Invite June 14-16
Sparkler Juniors July 1-7
Chicago Midwest Championships July 11-14
10u, 12u World Series July 12-17
16u, 18u World Series July 15-20
Southeast Championships July 14-18
Southwest Summer Nationals July 18-21
14u World Series July 22-27
Super 72 Sept. 13-15
Ronald McDonald Oct. 18-20
City of Lights #1 Oct. 25-27
City of Lights #2 Nov. 8-10
Don Battles On Nov. 15-17
Visit baller.tv/triplecrownfastpitch for links and notifications for all of these events.
Baller TV will also share coverage at the TC/USA Nationals (July 15-18) with FloSoftball; FloSoftball has eight fields, with BallerTV handling the remainder.
BallerTV was founded in 2016 by co-founders Robert Angarita and Aaron Hawkey to provide live video coverage of amateur sports while creating sports media job opportunities in local communities. As of 2018, BallerTV is now a coast-to-coast operation with a network of thousands of broadcasters across the country.
“BallerTV is extremely excited to be partnering with Triple Crown Sports,” said BallerTV Account Executive Daniel Chun. “As one of the leaders in the fastpitch world, Triple Crown continues to transcend the space and host top-tier events. We’re thrilled to provide a live stream service for athletes, parents and coaches to take their game to the next level.”
“We are thrilled to be partners with BallerTV, which is a forward-looking and dynamic media company that will help more people follow the action at our tournaments,” said Andy Hansen, VP of Media and Branding at Triple Crown. “Our fastpitch events are nationally known for their value to college recruiters, so we expect coaches to be especially interested in using BallerTV to track the progress of players who may end up on their rosters someday.”
About Triple Crown Sports
Based in Fort Collins, CO., Triple Crown Sports has been producing college and youth events for more than 35 years, with approximately 90 events scheduled for 2019 in the arenas of youth baseball, fastpitch, basketball, lacrosse and volleyball. The TCS footprint includes both the preseason and postseason WNIT basketball events and the men’s and women’s Cancun Challenge tournaments in November. Triple Crown is also powering “WNIT” concept events in D-I softball (NISC) and volleyball (NIVC), with those two events debuting in 2017. TCS youth fastpitch tournaments (including the 900-team Sparkler/Fireworks event) draw the nation’s finest club programs, and hundreds of college coaches attend TCS events for recruiting purposes.
Triple Crown Sports, FloSports announce partnership for live streaming of selected youth, college events
FORT COLLINS, CO – Today, Triple Crown Sports announced a partnership with FloSports, the innovator in live digital sports and original content, to provide live and on-demand coverage of multiple TCS events in youth fastpitch and college softball on FloSoftball.com, as well as men’s and women’s college basketball on FloHoops.com.
Beginning in 2019, FloSoftball will live stream all 34 softball games at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge set for two sessions on Feb. 7-10 and Feb. 14-17, featuring college powerhouses such as Baylor, BYU, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Washington.
On July 1-7, FloSoftball will cover the action on 12 fields at the Colorado Sparkler and Fireworks, Triple Crown’s massive youth fastpitch event that draws more than 900 teams annually. FloSoftball will also live stream four games -- 14u, 16u, 18u Power Pool and All-American -- that highlight Festival Nights in Westminster and Aurora, Colo.
Later in the month, FloSoftball will air eight fields during the TC/USA Nationals, Triple Crown’s own highly regarded youth fastpitch national championship in North Atlanta on July 15-18.
The slate of events ends for the year at the men’s and women’s Cancun Challenge. FloHoops will live stream all of the women’s games on Nov. 28-30, as well as the Mayan Division of the men’s event on Nov. 26-27. This event has more than a 10-year history of drawing some of the strongest and most exciting D-I college basketball programs from around the country.
“Teaming up with Triple Crown Sports to cover multiple youth and college events is a great opportunity to showcase some of today’s top up-and-coming players and collegiate student-athletes,” said Adam Fenn, FloSports SVP of Global Rights Acquisitions and Strategy. “TCS consistently organizes some of the biggest events and continues to build premium events that amplify the fan experience every year.”
“We are thrilled to partner with FloSports as our official streaming partner at our top club softball and college events,” said Andy Hansen, VP of Media and Branding. “We consider them the leader in live sport event streaming, and their presence will add tremendous value both from a streaming and content standpoint.”
Streaming more than 10,000 live competitions per year, FloSports continues to emerge as the global leader in live, in-depth, and on-demand digital coverage for passionate sports fans.
To access live and on-demand coverage of all softball and basketball games, visit FloSoftball.com or FloHoops.com to become a monthly or annual PRO subscriber. Either subscription unlocks access to premium content across the entire FloSports network. Watch the events across all screens by downloading the FloSports app on iOS, Roku, or Apple TV 4.
FloSports, the innovator in live digital sports and original content, partners with event rights holders, governing bodies, and other media companies to unlock a world of sports coverage that true fans have been waiting for. Through live streaming of premier events, original video programming, and weekly studio shows, FloSports is growing the sports, the events, the athletes, and the fans. Current verticals under the FloSports header include Softball, Basketball, MMA, Football, Wrestling, Track, Gymnastics, Hockey, and more.
About Triple Crown Sports
Based in Fort Collins, CO., Triple Crown Sports has been producing college and youth events for more than 35 years. TCS runs both the preseason and postseason WNIT basketball events and produces the men’s and women’s Cancun Challenge tournaments in November. Triple Crown is also powering “WNIT” concept events in D-I softball (NISC) and volleyball (NIVC), with those two events debuting in 2017. TCS youth fastpitch tournaments (including the 900-team Sparkler/Fireworks event) draw the nation’s finest club programs, and hundreds of college coaches attend TCS events for recruiting purposes.
from left, Charlie Pikas, Jaime Jimenez and TC event director Krista Crawford
The All-American Sports Academy sprang to life through the vision of fastpitch coaching icon Debbie Nelson, who founded the Northern California enterprise 21 years ago. The past 14 years have seen the AASA start and sustain travel teams in softball, showing plenty of muscle in tournament settings and deepening the pool of talented players filling college rosters – the 18 Gold squad is typically one of the strongest rosters in the country (and will play in our Sparkler/Fireworks tournament in 2019). AASA was the fastpitch home of Washington All-American and Team USA member Ali Aguilar.
AASA officials/coaches Jaime Jimenez and Charlie Pikas made the trip to Triple Crown’s offices in mid-September and stopped to share some thoughts and perspectives on their club and the shape of the sport.
What do you want to make sure parents and players understand about AASA before they suit up for you?
JJ: In the very beginning, our priorities were to put kids in college, to give them an opportunity to further their education and play. That was always a starting point that led us to where we are now. We’ve got quite a few college players in our alumni list now, which is pretty cool.
CP: We ask parents to support their athletes. It’s not easy playing at the level we try to have our teams play at, so there’s a lot of support needed, most obviously the financial (aspect) and the time. But it’s the mental support, and the physical support of a hug after the tournament. We want them to compete at a high level, and the parents need to get that going in. It’s going to take time away from family vacations in the summer, but your window to be on the journey with these kids is not very long. In the moment, it might seem like you’re giving up a lot, but then you look back and it’s done.
The game has evolved so much in the 14 years you all have played travel ball; what jumps out the most about the players in that time?
JJ: You’re seeing kids who are in way better shape; they seek out personal trainers, hitting coaches and pitching coaches, more than they did back then. The level of play is so much better with kids starting younger, and we also like the fact they play other sports to be well-rounded. You are a better softball player when you play basketball or field hockey or whatever. But really, the training out there has been a big difference maker in our sport. There aren’t any barriers.
CP: It’s what they are capable of … when I started coaching 20 years ago, it felt like fine china, and you didn’t want to break the kids. “Let the girls play, and it’s so cute to watch them…” now, it’s more exciting for me to watch a softball game than a baseball game. What these kids are able to do by allowing them to go out and push themselves and play at that level, it’s exciting. The game is taking off at a great rate, and we hope it continues like that.
How do you approach the question of trying to win, while also making sure you are developing players properly?
JJ: A lot of my younger teams will hear me say, I’m not that concerned about you winning games. What I’m concerned about is the development; when the winning time comes, usually around when they are 14s or 16s, winning helps the health of the franchise. But you still want to produce terrific kids. It’s a relief you see on the faces of the coaches for our younger kids when I say I’m not worried about you winning. What I want is for them to grow, so when they go to the next age group they can compete, and they’ll keep competing. Winning will come after all the hard work we all put in. It’s a recipe that will work if you trust it and follow it.
CP: “Trust the process” is the big catch-phrase right now, but you really have to get parents to understand what your team is, what level you are at and where you’re trying to go, and that they need to be realistic. You lay out that road map in the beginning, and keep that open line of communication going along the way, they can get through the tough times. It’s those coaches who have sole emphasis on winning and you see them get beat down after two or three tough weekends in a row … it starts to affect the team, and then you get parents who are frustrated. So you help the parents along the way, not just the kids, so they all can weather the storm. If a player has a slump in a tournament, it’s not like we are going to give up on that kid, so if we have a tournament where things don’t go well, it’s the same thing.
What are some of the goals for AASA heading into the 2019 campaign?
JJ: The first thing that’s got us excited is having a 10u team in Seattle; the second part is, I’m completely bought into our youth teams right now. We have some strong young teams, and that’s the future for us at a high-level way. Our older teams are always competing, but we’ve always struggled in the younger ages and I think we’ve cleared that hurdle and will really surprise some people.
CP: There’s some transition at the 18 Gold level where we’re seeing some new faces. There’s stuff to be excited about at every level, with some different expectations and excitement levels.
It’s summer! And where better to kick off the accelerated pace of the softball season than in California at Triple Crown Fastpitch’s 7th annual Zoom Into June Invitational.
The 5-game showcase starts this week, running June 8-10, and happily welcomes 386 teams from all over the country. What’s awesome about Zoom is that it features top-ranked competition and relentless college exposure opportunities.
Want early/extra exposure? College Exposure Workouts and Organizational Workouts will take place simultaneously prior to the event on Thursday, June 7th.
Unsigned? Don’t worry! Zoom Into June offers an unsigned Junior and Senior Workout to help you find your future student-athlete home.
Looking for a school that highly values academics? We’ve got that too! The All-Academic Games are on Friday June 8th. The Invite-Only All-Star games will also take place on Friday.
Last but not least, College Camp Monday is on June 11th. It offers one-of-a-kind exposure moment for recruits and coaches, as athletes take part in high-energy drills directed by college coaches in multiple NCAA divisions.
Get ready to showcase your skills in front of nearly 200 college coaches! If you haven’t checked out the College Coach list, click the link below to find out who’s coming to recruit the sea of talent.
When Laura Espinoza-Watson comes to the conclusion her softball teams need something different, a tweak or twist to propel the roster forward, she could be like most coaches and scan the horizon for options.
Surely, there are talented athletes in and around Tucson who would crave the chance to work side-by-side with Espinoza-Watson, founder of the AZ ThunderCats, who was an all-American at Arizona and a feared force of nature in NCAA softball during the mid-1990s.
But rather than reach for her phone, or scheme with assistants to identify the best roster to raid, Espinoza-Watson inevitably will be found sitting down with her own players. Those meetings end with the ThunderCats agreeing that the best solutions are already in motion, and the best players to bring those solutions to life reside in their dugout.
Anyone who saw Espinoza-Watson hit, how she stood in the batter’s box with balance and discipline to attack her pitch, knows she’s not the fidgety type – and she’ll stick with her players in the same fashion, trusting the process and believing good results will come over time.
“We’re not cut-throat. I’ve never picked up the phone and called to get a kid off another team, but I’ve had that done to me,” said Espinoza-Watson, who started the club in 2008 when her 7-year-old daughter was ready to play and then suited up for that initial ThunderCats 10u team. “I use what I have, and I get the most out of my kids. I’ve had kids want to try out and are better than the kids I have in those positions, but I make it known my loyalty is to the (established) kid.
I had to work for the things I got; a lot of the kids I coach don’t have money. I’m competitive with what I’ve got. Instead of replacing them with a better athlete, I get every ounce of what I can out of that kid, and I run with it.”
In the early years, the ThunderCats were coached from 10u through 18u by her former Wildcats teammates; eventually, they left town for other opportunities, and Espinoza-Watson relied on family members to staff the program. Her name carried a lot of impact, as she sits third in NCAA softball history in RBI (315) and tied for fourth in home runs (85) – in her senior year with Arizona, she hit 37 homers and drove in 132 runs.
And when the club grew to include two teams in Phoenix and one in El Paso, Texas, the determination for that family feel was a priority.
“These people were special to me; for me it was if there’s anybody who loves the game I love and can respect it and treasure it, I want them to be ThunderCats,” she said. “I can’t be any happier for what we do with kids in this community. I’ve sat back and thought about bigger teams elsewhere that have multiple coaches on the staff, sometimes seven coaches, with personal instructors … I am all my girls have. It’s not really by choice; that’s just the way it is in this small town. We don’t have people jumping in; it takes time, and everyone wants to get paid. I’m not about that – I’m about giving back to the kids in the community, and that’s where I get my motivation from.”
With dozens of other fastpitch programs in the nation characterized by players jumping from club to club, and coaches forming rosters with a by-any-means-necessary philosophy, there’s a refreshing quality to how the ThunderCats do business.
“We really don’t recruit; people tend to come to us. We focus not on where they are at now, but where they can be down the road,” said Gina Espinoza, the club’s general manager and coach on the 16u and 18u Tucson teams. “If you see a player with the athletic ability and the drive, we invest in that player. Most kids on our older rosters have been with us five years and up. We are loyal to them, and they give that back to us. We’ve turned away a lot of players.
“Another important thing we do is, whether it’s a championship game, pool game, bracket game, we make sure players get in the game. It could put the game on the line, but every player gets in. That’s where we stand – it’s not about the wins and losses. They do support each other. We have three good shortstops who rotate positions – they are happy to support each other, and they know their role. And like at exposure tournaments, one kid will take a back seat because she knows the younger ones need to be seen. Or the younger ones will know a player needs reps, and they work it out.”
“When you play a tournament against the top teams in the country, they have a ton of kids to choose from, and they’re just picking the best of the best at tryouts,” Espinoza-Watson added. “I pride myself that the kids I have with me, I’ve had over the course of seven years. I got to start with them from scratch and seen them evolve as softball players. I take a lot of pride in that.”
One of the players who thrived on the family-first ethos of the ThunderCats is Ann Marie Vargas, one of the above mentioned shortstops who is headed to New Mexico State in the fall and has pressed on in her club days even when it didn’t feel like much fun.
She said at age 10 or 11, the deeper aspirations the ThunderCats had for her were a mystery, but a few years later she understood what the program was trying to do. Sometimes it asked a lot – Vargas would be held accountable for mistakes made by other players – but that was all connected to the themes of leadership and loyalty.
“I knew right away it would be a family-based group, and that was important to me. You go into the sport thinking it’s all about you, and you realize it takes the team to get anything done,” Vargas said. “I remember the first (conflict) I had with Laura – she definitely made me cry. But she’s an upfront honest woman who lays down the law. She rides you real hard, but if you ever need something off the field, she’d be one of the first people I’d call. We take a lot of pride in that family-based organization.
“She takes the time to develop you as a softball player, and a person in general. Also as a student; she gives so much of her time to make sure her kids are ready for the college experience, athletically and academically. It’s huge, in my opinion, that she takes the time to get kids that experience on and off the field.”
“We’ve had kids that came through and didn’t want to stay at first. They were scared of Laura, or it was too much for them,” Espinoza said. “One of our players (Yannira Acuña), who has verballed to ASU, she started at age 10 at catcher and second base — Laura said ‘you’re going to play the outfield,’ and she wanted to quit. Now, she’s a fantastic centerfielder. Laura also turned her around to bat on the left side, and she’s fantastic lefty slapper and hits for power. Stories like that really stick out.”
The ThunderCats are reaching crossroads in the near future – when Espinoza-Watson’s daughter ages out of club ball, she had imagined the time would be right to get out of coaching. If there were enough trusted allies and family members to keep the organization going, so be it, but she thought it was possible the club would come to an end.
Now, that seems less likely. A niece is about to hit the age where she can suit up for 10u softball, and this may provide enough incentive to keep the lights on for years to come. Gina Espinoza, who was volunteered by her own daughter years ago to join the coaching staff, also thought she might hang up the clipboard, but there’s a stubborn desire to keep up the good fight.
“I’ve been telling people for years I’m done. Now I’ve got a niece coming through … our love for the game and ThunderCats will probably keep it going,” Espinoza said. “The rewards of seeing the kids excel and watching them move forward will keep us involved for a long time. That’s my hope, anyway.”
“Getting ready for my last season, it’s exciting,” Vargas added. “It’s also bittersweet, going into this last year with Laura. I know it’ll be fun and we’ll go out with a bang, but the most important thing is I know she’ll get me prepared for college. When it comes to an end, it’ll be a bittersweet thing.”
In the world of club softball, there’s plenty of reason to tip one’s cap to the work done in Southern California, which for decades has produced stellar players and razor-sharp coaching minds that have accelerated the growth of the sport.
When considering the quality of play around the rest of the state, human nature might reach for a quick and careless answer about NorCal softball – the culture of San Francisco and the upper reaches of the Redwoods don’t foster the same competitive environment, some might think. But to overlook a program like Sorcerers Softball is to miss out on the skill set of dozens of players, as well as be unprepared for when the Sorcerers are in the opposite dugout, ready to humble one more squad that didn’t take them seriously.
With the 14u team taking second place at the Triple Crown/USA Nationals in Reno this July, the 18s coming in fifth at the same event, and the 16s taking third at the Independence Day Tournament in Boulder, CO., there’s plenty of fresh evidence that at high-profile tournaments, the Sorcerers have the depth and desire to make deep runs in the bracket. Some of that determination can be tracked to not wanting SoCal softball to be the last and only word.
“That’s certainly an ongoing deal. We’re always competing against them – the talent and coaching is amazing, and they draw players like crazy,” said Pete Aguayo, coach of the 18u squad that has all but one player signed to play college softball (and the one remaining doesn’t graduate until 2017). “We’re always trying to hold onto our players. But we get a fair amount of respect from those people. During showcase events, we seem to be put in with those teams, and we are always measuring ourselves by them.”
The Sorcerers were founded by the late, beloved Phil Mumma, who put a distinguished playing and coaching career topping 40 years into his vision for an academy in the late 1990s, in partnership with pitching instructor Delmar Himango. Before his untimely passing in September of 2013, the Sorcerers put hundreds of players into the college ranks at every level and through to the Olympic Games – the most well-known athlete is arguably Michelle Gascoigne, who pitched Oklahoma to the 2013 NCAA title and currently plays in the National Pro Fastpitch League with the Chicago Bandits.
From Aguayo’s view, when Mumma guided his 18’s to consecutive ASA National Championships in 2002-03, the Sorcerers had genuinely arrived. Those marked the first-ever national titles by a Bay-area team, and also the first time a program had repeat champions in decades. The 18s also won the ASA Gold Nationals in 2009 and was seventh in the 2013 PGF Nationals. This by-the-bootstraps construction of the club created a sense of fierce loyalty to Mumma, and in fact, current Sorcerers president Bill Schroll promised Mumma just before his death that Schroll would do everything in his power to sustain the Sorcerers’ name.
Fast forward to 2015, the talent of the Sorcerers 18s is eye-catching and an honor to Mumma’s design – if you took away the one player from that age category on the roster, the squad could have played as 16s this season.
“I don’t want to burst the bubble too early, but this (18’s) team has the potential to do something special over the next couple of years, if we can keep the young squad together and keep developing,” Aguayo said. “Believe me, we’re working hard on that.”
“One thing we are very focused on is being a pure program. We are not selling out and putting teams A through D in multiple cities – we have three teams in NorCal only,” said Gary Gascoigne, head coach of the 14u Sorcerers. “We want to be elite, premier, and not watered down.
“The Sorcerers have always had some of the best pitching in NorCal, no two ways about it. I give a lot of credit to Rich Balswick, a real pitching guru who has trained a lot of kids who went on to play D-I. And I am probably (a factor) with the Sorcerers; it looks like I’ve got 16 pitchers ready to come to tryouts for my team. One of the things I pride myself in is preparing kids to pitch instead of throw, and become prepared to excel at the next level.”
When it comes to shining a light on the philosophies and priorities that define Sorcerers softball, the one thing that comes into view first is the level of discipline expected by Aguayo, Gascoigne and 16u coaches Mike and Jenny Williams. This is not a destination for the faint of heart, or stamina.
“It was my first year, so it was nerve-wracking getting ready to play for them. But they really work on getting you ready for the next level and focus on the little skills,” said Lindsay Rood, one of the most accomplished Sorcerers players in program history, who is headed to Cal this autumn on a softball scholarship (and has been asked to play soccer for the Bears as well). “The coaches’ passion and attitude toward softball also inspired us; their dedication rubbed off on us.
“It was a great environment to be in. It was a little hard at first to get used to the effort they expected from us, but through that, you saw what it takes to be successful. We love playing the SoCal teams; it’s always a great fight, and we love how competitive it was. It’s even fun rooting for other NorCal teams when they play SoCal.”
“It’s run professionally and set up to give young players a chance to learn and succeed. One thing travel ball lacks these days is the teaching aspect and getting players prepared for college; and when it’s just about recruiting and being seen, you lose sight of that,” said Michelle Gascoigne, Gary’s daughter. “Phil was my coach, and I have a teammate on the Bandits who played for him as well. We tell stories and are really grateful we played for someone who was hard on us. You’re not going to get away with not hustling; it’s important to play where they will hold you to a high standard.”
This aspect of the Sorcerers is not likely to fade in importance in the years ahead. Coaches in multiple sports these days talk about the flightiness of young athletes, and how their flawed work ethic (often with parental enabling) makes it tough to build a devoted, dedicated roster.
You’ll find a throwback way of thinking with Aguayo and the rest of the staff, where success on the field and even later in life grows its roots on discipline, focus, consequences and team.
“From my perspective, I think it really starts with the parents. In a day and age where everyone thinks they are entitled to have something without really working for it … I’m getting ready to transition my team after the summer, and there are some kids I won’t be able to keep,” Aguayo said. “I could, but I’m not going to because I want to move with a grittier, more tenacious group when they practice and play. And when I found those (right) players, I find the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“You can see it in how the kid reflects a work ethic, their standards, their grades, how they practice and work out on their own time. It has to do with their family. People say, oh aren’t you too hard on your kids, that and that. But these are the people who become successful. You learn to compete, get along with people to attain the same goals. That’s what we are doing right here. And I feel fortunate to have families who get it.”
The challenges of running a top-flight program are always there, and always evolving. At the lower levels, people start new teams because of frustrations with their current squad – watering down the talent in town – and there’s the constant concern with expenses and what families have to juggle to afford top-flight instruction.
“But our parents expect us to put their kids in front of the same competition they’ll face in the SEC or the Pac-12,” Aguayo added. “And that’s why they’re here. They want to face that.”
As a regular customer of Triple Crown’s Zoom Into June fastpitch event, it makes sense Jason Gwyn likes a lot of items on the tournament menu.
Gwyn, head coach of the 18u Team Mizuno Impulse squad out of metropolitan Dallas, is always on the lookout for softball settings that maximize competition and put his players in front of college recruiters. If that requires hitting the road, so be it, and Zoom Into June (located in Hemet, CA from June 9-11) has proven to be a logical destination.
“The first part is the recruiting aspect. I still have a few kids who are needing to be put in front of coaches, mainly to solidify their standing,” said Gwyn, a high school coach in Carrollton who helped establish the Impulse in autumn 2010. “That’s the first weekend coaches can be out, and it’s been a great event the past few times we’ve been out there because of the large draw from the college perspective.”
Gwyn’s roster of 17 features 10 players who have already made college commitments to very notable programs like Maryland, Texas A&M, Oregon, South Carolina and Florida State. Several Impulse players and scores of others (the event features 500-plus teams from 12u through 18u) will be taking advantage of the laundry list of dedicated settings where skills are displayed and refined – All-Academic Games, Unsigned Senior Workout, College Camps, Organizational Workouts and the exclusive OnDeck Camp run by Derek, Joann and Heather Allister.
“The other part is being able to get out there and play good competition early in the season. It gives us an idea of where we’re standing as we go into the summer, and where we need to improve,” Gwyn said. “So when we come back out, we’ll have an idea what to expect.”
Gwyn said his seasoned group isn’t the type to be rattled by the thought of performing in front of scouts (more than 350 college coaches will be at Zoom in 2017), while also maintaining the team concept when suiting up as a group.
“This group I have is pretty unique. A good portion, seven or eight of them, have been together several years and been incredibly successful at every age group,” he said. “They were top three a couple different times at ASA National events; they did really well with Triple Crown (TC/USA Nationals) in Reno a couple years ago, and were seventh at PGF this last year – they’ve been pretty successful.
“The first time you take a group of kids out, the distraction of a big trip is there. But after that, it becomes habit. I worked on these kids to understand it’s a business trip … and if we get done what we should, there’s some play time at the end.”