It was a great honor to be able to coach this team with Sheilah Gulas and Nikki Nuzum to a national runner up finish in the 2018 USA All-American Games. What a great experience and thrill for all of the athletes and their families. I am so proud of the determination these young athletes displayed in fighting their way to the finals at the Hall of Fame Stadium in OKC.
The All-American games experience started with girls participating in a first round tryout/clinic at one of four locations during the winter of 2018. We had almost 100 girls tryout. The top players were invited to a final tryout in May where 15 players from Ohio and West Virginia were selected to the team. We were then able to have 4 practices in June prior to leaving for the games. With so few practices the focus was on teaching defensive and offensive team strategies.
What made this a unique experience for the team was the bus trip out to OKC. Our trip was very much like a typical college road trip. Parents who wanted to, were able to ride the bus with the team. The bus left Columbus on Wednesday night around 8 p.m. and we arrived in OKC the next day around noon. We used the time to teach the players mental training techniques and do team building activities that helped give us an edge over other teams we competed against. This team jelled really well in a very short time. Most of it was attributed to the bus trip where the kids and parents had a great time getting to know one another. Both parents and players were able to bond quickly which made for a fun trip.
Once we arrived in OKC we checked into the hotel. Later that day we went to the Hall of Fame Stadium where the athletes were able to participate in a Softball Factory Clinic and player skills competitions. We then had a team dinner and had a mental training session where we visualized as a team.
Friday morning we had a photo session followed by a team practice and then opening ceremonies. Legendary UCLA coach Sue Enquest gave a very inspirational speech to the players and their families. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip as all the participating teams are on the field at the same time being inspired by one of the greatest coaches ever. After the opening ceremonies were over our team had the opportunity to have an autograph and photo session with Coach Enquest and members of the USA National Team and also had time to tour the Hall of Fame Softball Museum.
Later that evening pool play started. We won both our pool games on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. All 15 players were able to make a contribution in the wins. We were also scheduled to play an exhibition game on the stadium field on Saturday night but the rains came and we were delayed until Sunday. Weather was still an issue on Sunday which pushed our games to later in the day. Fortunately we were able to still play our exhibition game on the main field but sadly we lost the game in an ugly performance against an outstanding team from Texas. It became a huge learning experience for our team as they learned how to flush away their nerves and refocus on playing one pitch at a time.
Single elimination games started for us late Sunday afternoon with three consecutive wins taking us late into the night. We beat the other region 2 team from Virginia/North Carolina putting us into the finals against the southwest region team that beat us earlier in the day. The final game started at around 12:30 a.m. Our kids fought hard and even scored first but we ultimately lost 4 to 3 in a close battle.
I can honestly say coaching in the Hall of Fame Stadium in do or die softball, at midnight, was one of the most exciting things I have ever done during my 35 year career. It was surreal to be on the field where so many greats of the game have coached and played.
The players and their families had such a great time and our kids played their hearts on the line for each other. In todays world to have 15 kids and sets of parents come together in such a short period of time, where they put team first, was incredible and it paid off in a big way. These players and their families will forever be bonded together for a memory that will last them a life time. I was so proud of how well these kids accepted their roles and were willing to do whatever we asked of them. That doesn't happen without parents being supportive of the team's mission. We had great team chemistry throughout the 5 days we were together.
The trip ended with a long bus ride home after leaving the stadium at around 2 a.m. On the way home, I met with each athlete and we talked about their experience and their future goals. This is much like what college coaches do at the end of a season. We discussed what they did well and what they needed to focus on improving to reach their goals.
Even though the bus ride was long, all the parents who rode the bus said that they were happy they had as it truly made this trip different than any other softball trip they had ever taken. They enjoyed seeing how we were able to do things to help our team come together and gain confidence throughout our trip. The parents got an inside view of what college travel is all about and they developed deeper friendships with families they did not know.
Sheilah, Nikki, and I were so happy to be a part of something so exciting. USA Softball does an outstanding job of putting on a first class event and we were proud to show the rest of the country that Ohio/WV is a force. The team members from 2017 and 2018 have great lifetime memories from their trips to OKC. They forever will be able to say they played on the same field where legends of the game became legends, the best in the world have all played at the Hall of Fame Stadium. Every time one of our region 2 players watches a Women's College World Series they can say, "I was there, I was on the field where legends are made and it was one of the best experiences of my life!"