When asked to describe middle infielder Kate Vance, AZ Storm Coach Corey Mathis used words and phrases like “hardworking” and “great teammate”. However, he also came back time and again to the threat she poses on the field.
“She’ll hit plenty of home runs during the year and come up big in situations. You want the bat in her hand when the game is on the line,” Mathis said. “She’s an absolute threat.”
Vance considers her power and on base percentage to be a couple of strengths offensively. Last season, she posted a .438 on base percentage and .661 slugging percentage. However, when she steps to the plate in big situations, stats aren’t on her mind.
TN Mojo 2024 Hughes has featured a core group of players since they were in 10U, and Coach Michele Hughes believes that this talented core staying together has been key for the team’s success.
“Because the core group of these girls has been together for so long, they know each other really well, and they really play as one cohesive unit,” she said.
TN Mojo Hughes boasted a 45-11 record last year, including a third-place finish at Triple Crown Southwest Nationals and a top 20 finish at the Colorado Sparklers Power Pool. The team hopes to build on their success this year. As the players have gotten older, Hughes has been encouraged by how they’ve matured and taken responsibility.
The Ohio Lasers have been developing top-notch softball players for nearly 30 years, with the organization beginning in 1993. During that time, the organization has generally had about eight teams at any given time, ranging from 10U to 18U. In recent years, founder Jeff Cavanaugh said they’ve sometimes had two teams in an age group instead of one, but he doesn’t want the organization to grow too large. From day one, he’s wanted the Laser’s focus to be on the players.
“I don’t make any money from this,” Cavanaugh said. “I’ve looked at it as helping people instead of a business. It’s about kids, and that’s why we don’t charge much. I’m trying not to make the players pay extra.”
I-5 Softball is a young organization, but it has quickly grown in size and competitiveness. I-5 will have its first set of alumni soon, with several players already committed to colleges. Coach Jared Snyder believes the organization’s commitment to the players is one reason they’ve had success.
“We don’t rush out to find the next best player. We develop the players we have to make them as great as we can make them,” Coach Snyder said. “We’re very loyal to the families and the girls that commit to us.”
The NC Challengers strive toward many goals as an organization—develop players on and off the field, win softball games, send alumni on to the college level. Central to all of this is consistency. First and foremost, Coach Adam Renzi believes players can be most successful when they start with the organization’s 10U or 12U teams and stick with the Challengers as they get older.
“Keeping players in our program where they have a consistent training regimen and pushing them to the right tournaments leads to better-developed players,” Renzi said.
Part of this consistency is retaining players so the same girls are playing together, but another part is the relationships players develop with coaches. The Challengers try to hire non-parent coaches, which often results in coaches staying with the organization longer than the four to five years parents often stay when they’re coaching their daughters’ teams.
The Arizona Hotshots began in the mid-’90s, and since that time the organization has delivered on its goals to play high-level softball and develop players on and off the field. Currently, the Hotshots feature 13 teams ranging from 10U to 18U. Arizona Hotshots president Brad Downes says a strength of the organization is the dedication of its coaches.
“Being volunteer-driven has been a strength of the organization for many years. We have folks that are really dedicated to promoting student-athletes who want to play beyond high school,” he says. “The folks that want to be part of the organization feel they can help young female athletes reach their academic, athletic and life goals through this sport.”
Teams across the country are familiar with the chaos and exhaustion that comes from traveling during the summer, playing in tournaments from coast to coast. However, this past season Hotshots Esparza took the grind to the next level.
“This past summer, I kind of put them through a gauntlet,” Coach Charlie Esparza says. “We set out a dramatic summer schedule that took the parents and players on the road for a 43-day tour all over the country.”
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Fastpitch Network Followed the Hotshots from AZ to Birmingham. We watched them match up against teams like the VA unity Johnson, CA Firecrackers Vines, Corona Angels, AZ hotshots Erickson, and it was difficult to find a game they did not outright win. No losses. This is a very powerful team and they should produce a lot of exciting softball next season.
When Chad Warne and Pat Racanelli observed how the travel organization their daughters played for operated, they felt important pieces were missing.
“Call it arrogance or what have you, I just felt like we could do it better,” Racanelli says.
The two began discussing programs and resources they wished the organization offered to help their daughters grow into well-rounded individuals and get recruited to play college softball. Soon they founded Prodigy Fastpitch, a faith-based organization that helps players develop their skills, navigate the recruiting process and grow as individuals.
Carolina Elite produces top-notch softball players through rigorous coaching and relentless networking. Tony Genovese coached the first 14U team in 2007. Soon after that he brought Dana Fusetti on board. The organization has grown from there, now with teams from 8U through 23U.
Fusetti believes the organization’s greatest strength is the connections that she and coaches Genovese and Shaun Gleason have with college programs.
“We work really well together from a coaching standpoint to help get kids recruited. If a Carolina Elite coach has a player on their team that wants to go to a particular school, and that coach does not have a relationship with one of the coaches from that program, he can reach out to Tony and me. It’s not a competition by any means. We have the same goal: get the kids recruited,” Fusetti says.
Sorcerer Bigley-Everett played well in many top tournaments this year, but coach Ryan Bigley says that without a doubt the highlight of the summer was the team’s third-place finish in PGF‘s 14U Premier Bracket A.
“It was just good ball. All the girls were in a good space mentally. I think we did a decent job of getting the girls not only physically prepared but mentally prepared as well, believing in themselves and keeping it even keel,” Bigley says. “Keeping them in the moment was key for us and special stuff happening in special moments.”
The deep run at PGF was the culmination of a season where the team had to learn to overcome adversity. The team suffered a blow when Emma Misasi suffered an injury at Triple Crown Nationals.