by Kyle Koso
AURORA, Colo. — With 12 years already invested in the sport of softball, Sophia Taliaferro has evolved into a genuine weapon on her roster, willing and more than able to perform at the plate or take on the defensive tasks at catcher, shortstop or the outfield.
A two-time all-state honoree from Vienna, VA., Taliaferro is in good standing with her teammates and coaches. But standing still is not an option for dedicated athletes chasing their ceiling, which meant Taliaferro eagerly signed up for three pre-tournament offerings at the Triple Crown 2022 Colorado 4th of July event — College Camp Sunday, and then back-to-back sessions at Elite College Camp Monday and the organizational workout of her club program, the Fury Platinum.
All this took place before her Fury Platinum National-Chiles 16u team even started action in the tournament. It’s safe to say Taliaferro is tapping all her energies in Colorado, figuring the best way to secure a future in the sport is to fully engage in the present.
Triple Crown’s college camps fit right into that plan.
“First and foremost, I want to meet the college coaches who will be there … it’s important to be able to meet who you might play for in person,” said Taliaferro, 16, a junior-to-be at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, VA under coach Suzy Willemssen. That team is a two-time defending state champion group, and Willemssen was just awarded the inaugural TCS Joan Joyce Award on Monday.
“There are different personalities, different ways to teach the game, and it’s important to find someone you connect with. It’s good practice to put yourself in those situations. You’re under pressure to perform, and going into that will make you better for sure. And you never know what you’ll learn. There are new drills and new perspectives I’ve seen by going to camps like this.”
Taliaferro started playing at age 4, getting an itch for the diamond sports from watching an older brother play baseball. Around age 10, a club coach took time to highlight how Taliaferro’s skills and mindset could really lead to something special, and her affection for the game took off from there.
The left-hand hitter will know more about the shape of her recruiting journey in September when her graduating class can be contacted by Division-I programs. The academic and athletic reputation of Notre Dame appealed to her for the Elite Camp on Monday, and she enjoyed her time with the Fighting Irish staff at Aurora Sports Park.
“I would say culture is a big factor; I want to go somewhere I know the coaches care about how I’m playing, but they care about me as a person as well,” Taliaferro said. “Notre Dame talked about their culture, how their relationships with players look, the mental aspect of the game. You have to prioritize your mindset before you can get to how you play — it all feeds off each other.”
The environment of each school is a worthy topic to consider. Athletes know the college road ahead will include a tempo-heavy mix of classwork, early-morning weight room chores, film study, practices, road trips … it’s critical to find the right landing spot when much is being asked of you.
“The benefit of going to individual camps, you can get a feel for their philosophy, what they expect from their players and their staff. You hear what they say and watch what they do,” said Taliaferro’s father, Aaron. “The drills they run will tell you a lot about what they are looking for. You need to understand, is it a developmental culture, a transactional culture … it’s not right or wrong, but players and parents should know what you’re getting into. The camps help you toward understanding that.”
If growing skills and showing tenacity is part of what makes earning a college scholarship possible, it’s nice if the game remains something fun and fortifying to the spirit. Taliaferro said she’s immersed herself in softball, giving herself to it because of what it gives back.
“The game makes me feel special,” she added. “Not everyone can say they get to go out and do these cool things, travel and be with a team all the time, meet great people. It’s cool how much the game has brought me … it’s built me as a person. It’s something I can tap into; whenever I don’t like what else is going on, there’s always softball.”
COLLEGE CAMP CREDITS — There were 1,502 players attending the 19 camps that were run on Sunday, and Monday there were 517 players in Elite Camps. There were about 250 college coaches directing the camps.
“The Colorado 4th of July camps, both multi-school and elite camps, have brought so many talented and knowledgeable coaches to one location,” said Triple Crown camp director Alyson Carter. “Our Elite College Camps continue to house the top programs in the country including four schools that were in the Women’s College World Series (Texas, Oklahoma State, Florida and Northwestern) and all but one making it to NCAA Regionals this postseason.”