By: Jeff Strange

Coming off an injury riddled 2023 campaign, the Millard Fury Gold ’07 squad was saddled with adversity throughout the course of the season. Some tournaments proved difficult to compete in as the roster was sometimes depleted with athletes fighting through various injuries.

However, the response to the challenges faced by the core group of the Fury Gold ’07 squad in 2023 resulted in a tighter knit nucleus with a stronger mentality as they closed out the season. Incoming coach, Brad Westley, and his staff have been involved with this group for the past 2-3 years and have a positive outlook for this squad.

Case in point: the close of the 2023 season. This was a turning point, according to coach Westley.

“We knew we had a special core of athletes when they played in their last showcase tournament in Beatrice, NE,” said Westley. “In this tournament, the girls played for the team and for each other. You could see that they were having fun during the course of that weekend. The team ended up taking second in this tournament, running out of gas in the championship game. While they weren’t happy with the outcome, you could sense that they had proven to themselves that they belonged.”

The success of this event led many of the athletes of the Millard Fury Gold ‘07 squad to churn out successful high school campaigns in the Fall. The anticipation of the team uniting for the fall was full of excitement for Westley and his staff.

“After high school season concluded in the fall, we were lucky enough to get one of our tournaments in,” said Westley. “We were only able to get one practice in, but the girls played beyond our expectations. Unfortunately, we lost our first bracket game to the team that ultimately went on to win the whole thing by a score of 1-0. Not bad playing a team that had played together all Fall, and us coming in after one practice and trying to fit the new pieces in.  Ever since that weekend, we’ve been anxious to get back out between those two white lines.”

As we move into 2024, we caught up with coach Westley to get insight into his outlook for the Millard Fury Gold ’07:

Can you give some background information on your coaching staff and coaching styles? 

“2024’s coaching staff is new to this team but has been involved with the returning core group of girls for the past 2-3 years. Coach Brad Westley has been involved in softball at Millard United Sports for the past 10 years. April Epley brings a wealth of experience not only in coaching but playing at a high level from travel ball to college. Chad Mattox has been a mainstay in the York softball community as an Assistant Coach for York High School as well as their youth programs.  Katie Wageman as a graduating senior is able to bring a player perspective and is able to easily relate to the players on the team.

Our team and coaching philosophy is “I’m with you…” We want the athletes to know that each and every coach and player is there to support them and their goals both on and off the field. We want to build that “family” feel with the team. Knowing that your team and coaches believe in you as a person and player boosts their confidence and allows them to grow in ways they may have never otherwise known. We focus on developing players through fundamentals and mental training to make them well rounded athletes. Each player trains at multiple positions to ensure they’re prepared for whatever situation may arise to call upon their skill set.

Most importantly, the team knows how to have fun, but also is down to business once they cross that white line. After all, this is a game!

Does your team face any challenges with schedules (drawing athletes from multiple states, perhaps)? If yes, how do you manage that?

“The majority of our team is from the Omaha metro area, but we do draw from across the state of Nebraska. We’re able to manage Winter schedules by practicing on weekends. The difficult time is in Spring, especially early in the season with having multi-sport athletes in Spring High School sports; schedules can get tricky to get everyone at practice.

However, the girls know the expectation set by themselves and coaches for working on their own outside of normal practice sessions. This outside work helps us to build accountability and integrity in understanding the work ethic needed to succeed in softball, as well as life.

There are times that due to family engagements or injury that we may have to pull from other teams in our organization or other friends to help in a pinch. This wonderful game of softball has provided all of us with the opportunity to make friends outside of our normal circles.

What are your primary goals and objectives for your team?

“Our team has two main goals or themes as well as some other more specific goals around fielding and hitting.

Each time our team steps on the field, we want to have fun while competing. The fun usually comes at my expense, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We want our competition coming out of the game remembering who we are – leaving nothing left on the field and playing deep into the day on Sundays.

Second, many if not all of our athletes have their own individual goal of playing in college. Not only from a softball skills perspective, but through help being prepared for and navigating the recruiting process has become fun and rewarding. Seeing these young ladies get an opportunity to live out their dreams is rewarding. Each athlete is there for each of their teammates to help drive and push them to be their best versions on and off the field.

From a defensive perspective, we want to have a fielding % of over 0.900. We’re also targeting at least two what we call ESPN Top 10 Plays, where our athletes do their thing. We believe our team defense is one of our strengths.

Offensively, we’re striving to “create chaos,” as I saw one Power 5 program state it. We want to have a “Quality at Bat %” around 0.500. We want to battle each time at the plate and ultimately put the ball in play. We also have a new point system for offensive plays that we’re beginning to track. As we determine our baseline in the early season, we’ll further challenge ourselves to generate more “points” per inning. It’ll be a fun way to track if we’re battling or not.”

In your opinion, what traits make your organization unique?

“Our parent organization – Millard United Sports – is the largest youth sports entity in Eastern Nebraska, outside of the YMCA. We offer recreational and select programs in softball, baseball, football, and cheerleading.

One advantage of having both a recreational and select program is the ability to work with players and coaches at a very young age, even before select softball begins. We’re able to leverage our select program’s knowledge and bring that to the recreational clinics. Our athletes at a very young age are taught proper fundamentals, which allows them to transition seamlessly from our recreational program to our select program if that is a goal.

Our program is built to find the right fit for any athlete – be that playing recreational ball and just having a blast in the Summer with your friends, to being a road warrior traveling all over Midwest and country with your teammates, we’re able to make that dream come true for all athletes.

The Millard Fury Gold program is built to compete at a local and regional level. Building the culture of each of the teams older or younger while helping each other become better. Our team particularly is playing throughout the Midwest this year.”

Can you give some analysis/perspective on your team for 2024?

“The team for ’24 is built around a core group of girls from the ’23 season with some great pieces added in the offseason. We’re an athletic group, that can take away what would normally be a hit defensively. As stated earlier, at the plate our plan is to “create chaos.” We don’t have an abundance of power, but we boast speed, and a group that lives on doubles in the gap. The ability to use our speed to get on base, then hit that gap will produce runs in any situation.

Our pitching staff is anchored by returner Lauryn Mattox. She is joined in the circle by Ava Fessler, who is returning after an injury. Rounding out our primary staff is Karli Farritor, who is jumping back into pitching. We’ll also be joined by a couple of pitchers who play with us from time to time as their schedules allow.

Our catching staff is comprised of Alexa Epley and Kaycie Dai getting the majority of the innings behind the plate, with Mady Wall filling in when needed.

Our corner positions are anchored by Emma Renner, Karleigh Rowley, Kaycie Dai, Lauryn Mattox, and Alexa Epley.

Our middle infield is an athletic speedy bunch with Madi Eich, Brooke Westley, Ava Fessler, and Mady Wall.

Just like our middle infield, our outfield is full of speed as well. Our outfielders are Hannah Wageman, Kameryn Lawson, Karli Farritor, Brooke Westley, Emma Renner, Mady Wall, and Madi Eich.”

What are your short-term goals for your team?

“Our short-term goals are for the girls to gel on the field and off as we have quite a few new pieces. If our Fall and practices are any indication, this won’t be a problem.

This year’s schedule will challenge the girls in ways they haven’t been before. Our group is poised to take the next step, and we’ll do just that increasing the competition at the tournaments we’ve chosen to participate in.”

What are your long-term goals for your team?

“Long-term the goal is get every athlete on our team that wants to play at the next level in college, to achieve that opportunity.

The schedule beyond ’24 will continue to be challenging in order to get our athletes either noticed or continue to prepare them to be contributing members of their high school and college teams.”

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