By Kyle Koso
AURORA – Once the tempo and tone of Triple Crown’s Elite College Camp took root Monday at Aurora Sports Park, it felt at once very familiar and somewhat alien, all at the same time.
With the pandemic shelving moments like this for a year-plus, memories of players digging up grounders and cheering each other on are foggy, but everything regained its focus on the ASP fields, with coaching staffs from numerous top-notch D-1 programs running drills and elevating skills.
It’s a keystone moment in the event schedule ahead of the Colorado 4th of July tournament, which included other college camps on Sunday and a fleet of organizational workouts later Monday, where players could again show their stuff in front of active recruiters.
About 1,500 athletes took part in the college camps, with hundreds more involved in other workouts.
“The key is constantly growing the game. Improvement comes in a lot of forms; attitude and effort, but also work ethic,” said Florida head coach Tim Walton, who had the joint moving crisply in the four-hour session. “To have an opportunity to come to Colorado and work with a bunch of young aspiring D-I softball players is fun. It’s a chance to give back, but also to learn and meet new people.
“I feel the individual work ethic actually improved (during the shutdown), so it’s getting back to the team aspect. How to understand one person isn’t the team. All the things we trained for during the pandemic were individual, so how do you come back and get better as a team? Every good coach is never satisfied, always recruiting and always watching … always watching. We’re always looking for great players.”
Addison Lund, 14, of the Tennessee Mojo-Abernathy squad got a big jolt of positivity at the clinic, after she drilled a long home run to center field and later doubled during the scrimmage portion of the session. The third baseman thrived on the proximity she enjoyed with one of the nation’s leading coaching staffs.
“Knowing that they are here for recruiting, and also to help us get better, it was great to know I could do that in front of them. Hopefully, they’ll keep an eye on me as I go on through high school,” she said. “Hitting like that, right there, takes a lot of weight off my shoulders. Getting on their radar, showcasing my skill to them, getting better as a player … you have to get outside the game to get better.
“They were very one-on-one. If they saw something wrong with your mechanics, they pull you over and talk about what to fix, and drills that can help you with getting better. I really liked that. And if you did it again, they’d talk to you and insure that you understood and could do it in a game.”
Another athlete who got the needle to jump was 12-year-old Alaina Griffin, who made a remarkable diving catch on a liner to second base and finished the double play, earning applause around the stands and a fist-bump from Walton.
The day started with some anxiety, she admitted, but it offered exactly what she was looking for in a clinic.
“That felt really good. They are teaching us so much, and it’s exciting to show them what you can do,” said Griffin, who plays for Team NC out of Charlotte. “I wanted to have fun, work hard, hustle and get better. I always get nervous before these kinds of things … they taught me a lot in the four hours we were out here.”
Oregon head coach Melyssa Lombardi and her staff delivered another valuable session, evidenced by the number of players asking to pose for photos with Lombardi at the conclusion. She said being back at the Colorado 4th of July was a treasured return to the familiar.
“COVID was tough on all of us, so to get back and feel some normalcy … to be back in Colorado for a tournament we’ve all been coming to for many years and to do an Oregon camp with some teaching, I feel happy and thrilled to be doing that,” Lombardi said. “I think players have been pretty resilient. How they handled COVID, either with a lot of resources or not very many, they were able to continue on and work on the game they love.
“This is a great week. Happy to be in Colorado and watching games all day long. To see the athletes on their teams and get after it is great.”