By Kyle Koso
Changes in college recruiting rules for girls fastpitch players, and a widespread belief that kids who were barely teenagers had to face needless stress just as they were learning how to play, has the chance to improve the experience of young players going forward.
While the rules are sorted out, the committed athletes will still want to get better and want to know what coaches on the college level look for when it's time to sign. Awareness, skill improvement, mental toughness and good old-fashioned conversation were then the priorities as Triple Crown Sports presented its Early Identifier Camp on Tuesday, beginning with 248 players ranging from ages 11-13 in action at the Skyview Complex in Colorado Springs.
The group was whittled to 64 players who took part in Tuesday's Elite Camp later that day in Westminster. The JUCO and NAIA coaches who were working the morning session selected the players who advanced; energy and excitement at Skyview was boosted with the sight of several Scrap Yard Dawg professional players running the drills and offering encouragement.
"This is to engage to younger kids, and to give them a look at what professional softball is all about. You can feel what recruiting will be like and what a showcase will look like; we give feedback as players who have been in it and have played at the schools they are looking at," said Lauren Haeger of the Dawgs, who played on an NCAA-title winning team at Florida and is the only players in NCAA history to win 70-plus games as a pitcher while also hitting 70-plus home runs.
"When I was 12, I was playing 27 different sports, just wondering what high school I'd go to. It's cool they have the opportunities like this; there is pressure, but you have to remember to do this for fun, because it is not a forever thing. They are good listens, and they are working hard and hustling."
"It's such an experience to begin with - I'm glad for a chance to get the exposure and learn more about all the necessary tools. Not many girls get to do this, and that's why it's such an amazing thing," said Malea Yoxsimer of the Colorado (Parker) Peak Athletics. "Days like this can build up the pressure a little bit, with all the eyes watching. It adds another factor because they aren't just watching how good you are, they are watching how you handle it, and if you are a leader.
"My fielding was OK; there weren't enough outfielders, and I usually play infield, but I thought, ok I'll get out there. It was a setting I'm not usually in, but that was all right. I definitely think I can improve in a lot of different areas."
Going in, the players knew that showing respect and shaking hands would go a long way in telling the Dawgs and college coaches about maturity. The Selling Group had a presentation on "Building a Championship Mindset" which gave the players a chance to consider fresh ways to deal with pressure, success and failure.
Players could also take comfort in knowing the coaches and ex-college stars were there because they want the game to improve and be a force for good.
"I've been with Triple Crown for 15 years or so, and they trust me to come out and evaluate some younger kids. This is for us, way too early to be offering scholarships, but it's neat to see the talent and help them in the process, what they can expect in the next few years," said Pat Reardon, head coach at Central Methodist University in Missouri. "You've got kids from all over the country; the fundamentals they know and how they pitch is pretty impressive. I've heard them talking in between saying they are nervous, but they are good about being attentive and doing what the coach is asking."
"I was looking to meet a lot of great people and have fun with them while we are out here," said Jayden Sick of the Arizona HotShots. "I'm working on fielding, learning how to go backhand and getting the ball to second ... I feel good about my hitting."