When you look at the top players in the Class of 2024, you don’t need to scroll far to find Jayden Heavener’s name. The 15-year-old hard throwing lefty is ranked as the #11 overall prospect on Fastpitch Network and #1 prospect on Xtra Innings.
The sophomore pitcher from Pensacola, who also plays first, joined Josh Johnson’s Virginia Unity 16U team in late summer and made an immediate impact. The Johnson/Ross team which combined players from two different teams, went 25-3-2 over the fall and Heavener was spectacular. She pitched 57 innings going 11-0, surrendering just 22 hits with 116 strike outs, a 0.73 ERA and opponents hit just .117 with her on the bump. Heavener struck out 11 batters in three different games this fall.
When you talk to Audrey Lowry, you quickly realize she doesn’t just love softball, but she is a student of the game. Incredibly focused, detail oriented, and the rare kind of player who doesn’t only rely on her physical gifts but thinks through what she wants to do on the mound. And in case you haven’t been paying attention – her focused dedication is paying off in a big way.
The Beverly Bandits Conroy 16U team is off to a sizzling start. After coming in 3rd in PGF Nationals this summer, the Bandits have won both fall tournaments (PGF King of the Hill and the PGF Labor Day Tournament) on their way to a 15-0 start. They have outscored their opponents by a whopping 102-11 in those games.
Ava Conti dominates the pitcher’s circle with confidence and poise – she’s all business, according to her coach Mike Faulstich with Sorcerer Softball. A 5’8” 158lb right-handed pitcher and first baseman from Redwood City, California and Carlmont High School, Conti is known for her tenacity and competitive spirit.
“Ava brings a wealth of experience to Sorcerer,” states Faulstich and “we love her demeanor and controlled fire she plays with.” Conti is ranked as the No. 19 pitcher in the 2023 class, according to Fastpitch Network, and likely to push the rankings this season.
“She refuses to be outworked in anything she does,” states Faulstich, and always working daily on her physical and mental game. Her personal mantra is “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” and Conti displays a true grit mentality, competitive spirit, and a sense of determination that is one of a kind.
If you see DaNia Brooks, she likes to keep it simple. She likes to smile and puts a premium on having fun, which drives her and her team on the softball field.
The 15-year-old, rising Junior for the Tampa Mustangs 16U squad primarily plays the hot corner and pitches for her coach Rene Ciccarello Jr., whom she’s played for since 2014.
“She is a remarkable player, and probably the toughest out to get on the field,” said Ciccarello. “You throw her a change up and you wish you didn’t. You throw her a rise pitch and she gets her barrel on it. DaNia has always been a tremendous athlete with incredible strength and hand-eye coordination.”
Most elite athletes get into sports at an early age, and Malayna Tamborra is no exception. The Atlanta Vipers 05 pitcher and first baseman grew up with softball, even more so than most.
Malayna plays for her mom, Stacy Tamborra. Tamborra played college ball at Florida State, and after giving some lessons and working with a local team, she decided to dive into coaching. She bought the building for her business, Champions Fastpitch Academy, just months before Malayna was born.
While Tamborra encouraged her kids to play other sports, Malayna grew up watching the players her mom coached become great. Soon, she decided she wanted to be a great softball player, too. But greatness doesn’t come without dedication and hard work. Especially early on, Malayna learned to use what she had to be successful.
When batters step into the box against Makayla Huddleston, they don’t know what’s coming, but they do know each pitch will be precisely where Huddleston wants it to be. The meticulous righty dominates through control, something her coach Michael Danley of the Tennessee Mojo 2023 has seen since he started coaching Huddleston in 10U.
“The first time that I ever saw her she just absolutely wowed us. I mean threw it well, had great control, hit her spots, mixed speeds. She’s just got a great knack for getting people out,” he says.
Huddleston has continued to wow, leading the Mojo to the 10U 2016 PFG National Championship title and and then the 12U title two years later. Now as Fastpitch Network’s 15th ranked pitcher for the recruiting class of 2023 and the 28th ranked player overall, Huddleston believes she’s dominated in large part because she continues to hone the strengths her coach saw the first time he met her.
When asked to describe softball sensation Renae Cunningham in just two words, much like trying to hit her pitching, it becomes a tough task. Some may choose the words “Gentle Giant” given her stature and humility. Some may be more straightforward and use “Great Player”. Her head coach Cray Allen, of the Beverly Bandits – Allen, liked the words “Controlled, Calculated”.
“Her approach is always a calm one. It seems like the moment is never too big for her, which allows her teammates to feed off that quiet confidence,” said Allen. “The way she goes about her game is such a blessing in today’s world of highs and lows. She never gets rattled and stays calm and focused through each situation.”
In a day and age of the never ending selfie and self promotion, the way Cunningham carries herself on the field is refreshing. Even Cunningham admits, “I’m a pretty simple person.”
Not many young players are wise beyond their age to show a sense of loyalty in the modern era of sports. From the professional athlete to the youth player, migrating from team to team is not an uncommon occurrence. That was not the choice or case for McKaela Walker.
“One strength that she developed at a very young age was loyalty,” said Todd Mayfield, head coach of the East Cobb Bullets – Mayfield team. “She’s very loyal to her coaches, loyal to her teammates, and very loyal to the organization she plays for.”