The 16U Atlanta Vipers 05 boast a talented roster built on speed, power and discipline. These girls have sky-high expectations for the upcoming travel ball season even as a first-year 16U team. Whether they’re winning tournaments, facing 18U teams in scrimmages, or grinding through practice together, the Atlanta Vipers know how to be great, in large part because they’ve been taught from the beginning what it takes to be champions.
Coach Stacy Tamborra leads the Vipers. After Tamborra finished her decorated pitching career at Florida State, she said she would never coach or teach. However, she began giving a few lessons and helped coach a local travel team. As she worked with the girls, she began to change her mind. “I just realized that God just had a bigger plan for me. You’re able to impact kids at a whole other level when you’re instructing them,” Tamborra says.
It takes an athlete with true grit to show up on the softball diamond in 40-degree April weather to get her reps in at the plate. Teams in the northeast often face a different kind of rival – the weather. And cold weather becomes just another opponent to be trampled and stormed.
Training is seasonal in the northeast, and teams often find themselves spending more time indoors than their southern counterparts. But learning to navigate the seasons builds character and initiates a sense of determination in these athletes.
Meet the Rhode Island Thunder. Founded in 1997 by David Lotti, the Rhode Island Thunder has grown to become one of New England’s premier softball organizations. Featuring eleven teams ages 12U to 18U, the Rhode Island Thunder can be found annually at top events such as Boulder IDT, TC Nationals, and PGF Nationals to name a few.
Five years ago, James Lamar was watching his 10U daughter from the sidelines and decided it was time to make a change. Feeling that some girls were being treated unfairly in the economically driven system, he decided to start a new club team that would create an opportunity for athletes to play, regardless of economic status.
Lamar partnered with his wife, Marissa Young, who had just been hired as Head Coach at Duke University, so it seemed fitting to name the team the Lady Dukes. “This became a full-time way of giving back to life – softball is not my full-time job,” states Lamar. “I was in a position to help kids by providing an opportunity – to help those that couldn’t help themselves. Everyone deserves a fair chance.”
This summer the Lady Dukes will be celebrating its fifth year as an organization and the first cohort of girls graduating into the college ranks. “Everything we have done so far is for this moment,” Lamar reflects. He states, “two years ago people would have said some of our girls would never have made it, given their background of single-parent homes or lower economic status – but they did.”
Emily Digby is not big on stats. In fact, when asked about her numbers from last season she couldn’t recall any specifics. If you find it surprising that a 16-year old athlete doesn’t recall their own stats, then you probably don’t know Digby very well.
Digby is the consummate team player for the Georgia Impact 18U, a squad with a track record of success and an expectation that drives student athletes to become better in all aspects of softball while also competing in the classroom.
The Dacula, Georgia resident made a big jump from 14U to 18U in the fall of 2020 and this will be her first season of playing at this level. A right-handed .400 hitter with plus power, Digby is now competing in a league where pitchers put a lot spin and speed on their pitches, the game is faster and the competition will be ratcheted up. Despite these challenges, she has already impressed her coaches and teammates despite a small sample size.
The organization has been competing at a national level for several years and finally broke through in the summer of 2019, as Nate Eaton’s 14u team won the Triple Crown/USA Nationals championship in Georgia.
Eaton’s team finished in third at nationals the year prior but triumphed by beating the Texas Bombers to cap off a 9-0 run through the tournament.
Eaton’s group, which now competes at the 16u level, is one of over 20 teams in the Team NC program, but its story is one that epitomizes what the fastpitch organization is all about.